The Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog has ordered a crackdown of the United States' largest umbrella group for Catholic nuns, accusing them of spreading radical theories and ignoring the church's teachings on homosexuality and abortion.
According to the BBC, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says an investigation found that the Maryland-based Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is in the midst of a "grave doctrinal crisis".
The Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has now been appointed to "rein in" the group, which represents some 57,000 nuns who work in education, health care, social services, parish ministries, religious education and chanceries, the Washington Post reports.
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It follows a Vatican assessment, which accuses members of the group of challenging the church's teachings on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and of promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith,” the New York Times says.
The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals", the newspaper writes.
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Vatican officials did not cite examples of the public statements in question. However, Associated Press quotes the Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the social justice lobby group NETWORK as saying that the timing of the report suggests a link with their role in supporting President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, despite the bishops' objections that the bill would provide government funding for abortion.
The nuns will now be asked to rewrite their statutes under the guidance of the bishop, and review their plans and programs to follow Catholic prayer and ritual, the New York Daily explains.
USA Today says the Vatican's actions are typical of the kind of hard line policies that many expected of Pope Benedict XVI when he was elected in 2005.
Campbell also spoke with NPR, saying the criticism was like a "sock in the stomach." She added, "The idea that Women Religious in the United States is not being faithful to the Gospel is just shocking."
In her comments to NPR, Campbell said the reprimand likely showed that "leadership doesn't know how to deal with strong women and so their way is to try and shape us into whatever they think we should be."
Campbell added, "When you don't work everyday with people who live at the margins of our society, it's so much easier to make easy statements about who's right and who's wrong."