Offering further proof that the world is becoming an increasingly weird place, the Catholic Church has decided to crack down on American nuns who, as anyone who has been around a nun recently knows, are a bunch of freewheeling party sisters. Wait, what? Yes, the Vatican has just taken disciplinary action against a group of American nuns who they say are proponents of "certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith." Oh no?
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella group representing most of America's 55,000 nuns, is in trouble with the Vatican because they've apparently have not been vocal enough in their opposition to gay marriage, abortion, and women's ordination. So now it's not enough to just be opposed to things the church is against? You also have to stand up and yell about it? That's some bullshit right there. As far as those radical feminist ideas they've been spreading, that evil has supposedly been taking place at conferences sponsored by the LCWR.
This directive came as the result of a two-year-long investigation—excellent use of resources, boys—and appears to be part of what is seen as the church veering into more conservative territory. You might not think nuns would be the obvious target of any investigations, considering it's the priests who've been causing most of the actual problems the church has faced recently, but of course organized religion never lets a little thing like logic get in the way.
In terms of the Vatican's specific issues with the LCWR, it appears they're mostly angry because the nuns have been "silent on the right to life from conception to natural death." Also they maintain the LCWR hasn't taken certain things seriously enough,
[T]he church's biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.
How dare a sister challenge a bishop! Anyway, it seems that one of the Vatican's main objections is with a smaller group of nuns called Network, which pushes progressive causes in Washington. Some feathers were ruffled when LCWR and Network endorsed President Obama's health care reform even though the bishops objected to it. The two nuns' groups have also recently endorsed Obama's compromise with the bishops over the contraception coverage mandate—even though the bishops are still fighting about it... And somewhere God is rolling his eyes.
For its part, the LCWR does not believe it's done anything wrong, and they say they don't intentionally invite speakers to their conferences who will oppose a teaching of the church "when it has been declared as authoritative teaching." The LCWR gave no official comment on the charges, but Sister Simone Campbell, who is the executive director of Network said she's "stunned" to have been singled out by the Vatican, and she says, "It concerns me that political differences in a democratic country would result in such a a censure and investigation." She also maintains that LCWR is not a bunch of militant feminists:
I know LCWR has faithfully-served women religious in the United States and worked hard to support the life of women religious and our service to the people of God.
But it's not enough to serve people, you have to indoctrinate them too, don't you see? And that appears to be at the heart of this controversy. As David Gibson points out in the Washington Post, many nuns have traditionally seen their role more as one of serving others, not so much adhering to the letter of Catholic doctrine—and to that end many nuns have felt comfortable openly disagreeing with church leaders on some controversial issues.
The LCWR investigation took place from 2008 to 2010, but in 2009 a separate, larger investigation—called a visitation—was launched by the Vatican to examine the commitment of American nuns to church doctrine and to find out why their numbers were falling so dramatically. As you might expect, the nuns weren't too pleased with being checked up on. The results of that probe haven't been released yet, so it's possible the nuns are in for even more censure in the near future. Though it seems likely that they're tough enough to take bit of a licking from the Vatican and keep on ticking.
Vatican orders crackdown on American nuns [Washington Post]