Vatican fist or velvet glove? Sartain meets nuns

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, charged with getting America’s women religious to toe the line, was making conciliatory talk after a meeting in Rome with Vatican brass and leaders from the nation’s largest organization of nuns.

The session with “Sr. Pat and Sr. Janet” went “fine,” Sartain told the National Catholic Reporter.  “Cardinal (William) Levada and I both listened attentively.  I took some notes, so I didn’t lose track of what they wanted to say.”

Sartain is a man in the middle.  A “doctrinal assessment” by the Council for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Levada, hit hard at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and pronounced the nuns guilty of “serious doctrinal errors” and “doctrinal confusion.”

The Vatican also said the nuns had embraced “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

The response was an outpouring of support for the sisters from Catholic lay people.  Weekly demonstrations during May on the steps of Seattle’s St. James Cathedral drew as many as 200 people.

The LCWR refused to be cowed, saying the assessment was “based on unsubstantiated accusations” and the product of a “flawed process that lacked transparency.”  It asked to meet in Rome with Levada and Sartain.

In contrast with the assessment’s accusatory tone, and intemperate denunciations of the nuns by Cardinal Raymond Burke — head of the Vatican’s highest court — Sartain says he is about listening rather than judging.

“From the beginning my goal has been to develop good relations with them so the process of renewal can proceed in the spirit of a good relationship,” he told NCR.  “I have not wanted to second-guess them, or to make statements on their behalf, or to interpret anything they have said.” [more]


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