Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others

The attempt this week by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to control the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the leading national organization of Catholic nuns in the U.S., is being widely criticized by Catholics and others, as people across the country start to express outrage at the decision and support for these women of faith.

A group of Catholics concerned about the religious sisters have organized an online petition at which has already attracted over 4,000 signatures in less than two days.  The petition’s text:

“On April 18, 2012, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) launched a crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella group that represents more than 80 percent of the 57,000 women religious in the United States.

“We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). We are shocked by the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s recent crackdown on nuns in the United States. The mandate forced upon LCWR, which threatens their works of justice, is a prime example of how the hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church misuses its power to diminish the voice of women. We value the prophetic witness of women religious and appreciate their commitment to social justice. “

You can access and sign the petition here.

A New York Times editorial supports LCWR and nuns’ ministries, pointing out that the Vatican’s accusations are

“. . .a misreading of the very fine work in schools, charities, prisons and impoverished neighborhoods being done by about 60,000 nuns across the nation.

“These nuns and their leaders continued to bolster the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church even as it suffered one of its greatest scandals in the sexual abuse of schoolchildren by rogue priests and the cover-ups by diocesan authorities. . . .

“It would be a tragedy, far beyond the church, if their fine work and their courageous voices were constrained.”

Bryan Cones, managing editor of U.S. Catholic offers an insightful analysis on the magazine’s blog.  His conclusion:

“When you boil it all down, the CDF’s complaints are trumped up, giving the U.S. bishops the excuse to act against a relatively independent Catholic voice that they don’t like—and a warning to others (perhaps such as Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association) not to offer an alternative Catholic voice in the national debate. Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK said it best, I think: ‘I think we scare them.’ ”

Sister Simone Campbell elaborated on that idea in an interview with National Public Radio.  Commenting on what might have motivated the Vatican’s leaders to take such an action, she said:

“. . .it looks like from the outside that they are not used to strong women who took the urging of Pope Pius XII very seriously. Pope Pius XII urged women religious – way before I was in the community – to be educated in theology, to get educated in advanced degrees.

“So we took him seriously, and we did it. The leadership doesn’t know how to deal with strong women. And so their way is try to shape us into whatever they think it should be, not realizing that we’ve been faithful to the call this whole time.”

Responding to a line of questioning as to why the Vatican and U.S. nuns’ differ in their approach to issues, including lesbian and gay issues, Sister Campbell stated:

“There’s certainly an experience difference. We as Catholics believe our experience informs our faith and our faith informs our experience. It’s – how can I say this? When you don’t work every day with people who live on the margins of our society, it’s much easier to make easy statements about who’s right and who’s wrong.”

PreviousBondings 2.0 posts on the LCWR case:

April 18, 2012: Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response

April 19, 2012: Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns

April 20, 2012: Can There Really Be “Collaboration” Between the Vatican and LCWR?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry