Mich. nuns ready for showdown with the Vatican
Nuns from Michigan and throughout the nation are assembling in St. Louis this week to prepare their response to a Vatican crackdown that criticized their loyalty and accused them of “radical feminism.”
This spring, the Vatican ordered a review of the umbrella group of the nation’s 55,000 nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, claiming the sisters had gone rogue, focusing on social justice issues and neglecting church teachings on subjects including contraception, abortion and homosexuality.
The rift, which has sparked a split among the faithful and a wave of sympathy for the nuns, is being felt in Metro Detroit.
One of the bishops conducting the Vatican’s review of 400 orders for American nuns is Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair, a former auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
The reports are being reviewed by Archbishop Joseph Tobin, a top Vatican official and a native Detroiter who was a priest at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in southwest Detroit.
Sister Nancy Sylvester said nuns didn’t invite the showdown. She is a former president of the Leadership Conference and former executive director of NETWORK, a social justice group named in the written assessment.
“We don’t teach theology. This was a political assessment, not a faith assessment,” said Sylvester, a member of the Immaculate Heart of Mary religious order in Monroe who now runs the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue.
The nuns are expected to devise their next step during the Leadership Conference meeting, which runs Tuesday through Saturday. Public vigils are planned nationwide to support the nuns, including Tuesday in Muskegon and Toledo.
Sylvester said she suspects Catholic bishops are unhappy because NETWORK supported President Barack Obama’s health care plan. The church opposed the legislation because it mandates that all employers’ health care plans — including religious groups’ — cover contraception.
“(The bishops) were on the losing side, and now they are upset at us,” said Sylvester.
Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron is not commenting on the issue. But on the Archdiocese of Detroit’s website, he writes that he “encourages the faithful to learn the facts” and refers to a commentary from Blair.
The commentary concludes that “someone who subscribes to the teachings of the Catholic Church” will have “legitimate cause for concern about the activities” of the nuns’ group.
Blair’s letter accuses the Leadership Conference of “constantly provid(ing) a one-sided platform … to speakers who take a negative and critical position” of church teachings on the ordination of women and other social issues. [More]