Dispute with US nuns began decades ago
A conflict that has entangled the Vatican, American bishops and the largest umbrella group for U.S. nuns may seem to have erupted suddenly, but it actually has its roots in decades-old disputes over Roman Catholic teaching.
The headlines came in April, when the Vatican orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, concluded that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had strayed far from authentic doctrine and gave three American bishops the authority to overhaul the organization.
The board for the nuns’ group responded by calling the Vatican’s investigation flawed and its conclusions unsubstantiated. Top executives of the sisters’ organization brought their concerns to a meeting Tuesday in Rome with Vatican officials.
The meeting was conducted in an atmosphere of “openness and cordiality,” according to a Vatican statement. But the church insisted that the nuns LCWR must promote church unity by stressing core church teachings.
On the face of it, the Vatican’s timing is baffling. America’s religious sisters are far from the height of their influence. Their numbers have plummeted from about 180,000 in 1965 to 56,000 last year, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Their average age is now above 70. Many orders go for years without any new candidates.
But the contretemps can be explained in the context of long-simmering differences that have also divided the broader church into opposing camps of theological liberals and conservatives — with many Catholics caught in between. Each side is acting consistently according to long-established priorities. [More]