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Vatican crackdown on U.S. nuns echoes of a modern day witch hunt

A Vatican watchdog group has accused the LCWR of promoting heresy.
A Vatican watchdog group has accused the LCWR of promoting heresy.
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The Vatican crackdown on U.S. nuns reported in various media outlets on Monday and Tuesday read more like a modern day witch hunt than an issue amongst the clergy of 2014. American nuns attached to LCWR are accused of heresy and many of the headlines would have readers believe Pope Francis is responsible for slinging the mud.

On April 30, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, met with a management team from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Rome for the group’s annual visit to the Vatican. The organization was accused of not following a Vatican issued reform agenda initiated in 2012 after a doctrine assessment was completed, which specifically states the American nuns overlooked methods for the selection of speakers for the LCWR annual conferences, questioned if their platforms and printed material endorsed heresy and suggested the group does not have the “ability truly to sentire cum Ecclesia (feel with the church)." Heresy because, among other things, a keynote speaker at one of the organization's conferences discussed "conscious evolution."

I regret that, because the last thing in the world the Congregation would want to do is call into question the eloquent, even prophetic witness of so many faithful religious women. And yet, the issues raised in the Assessment are so central and so foundational, there is no other way of discussing them except as constituting a movement away from the ecclesial center of faith in Christ Jesus the Lord.

Present for the Cardinal’s tongue lashing included LCWR leadership, St. Joseph Sr. Carol Zinn, Franciscan Sr. Florence Deacon, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sharon Holland, and St. Joseph Sr. Janet Mock, LCWR executive director, officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, the Vatican-appointed delegate to LCWR. Cardinal Müller’s address that cracks down on U.S. nuns was filled with apologies over his “bluntness,” however the prefect made it very clear what was to be expected from the LCWR going forward. Starting in August a Vatican-appointed supervisor is to approve annual conference programs. The organization was also ordered to adhere to the Catholic Church’s vision with better collaboration with Vatican rules.

A representative for the LCWR had little to say following the Vatican crackdown on U.S. nuns, except that the Cardinal’s dialogue was “respectful and engaging and accurately reflect the content of the mandate communicated to LCWR in April 2012.” According to the National Catholic Reporter the organization would not grant interviews.

Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, often referred to as the “pope’s theologian” and a close ally with Pope Francis, said U.S nuns and Catholics alike shouldn’t be “overly concerned” with Müller’s rant during a lecture in New York at Fordham University on Monday to promote his new book, “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life.” Cardinal Kasper felt previous talks between the Congregation and the LCWR have been moving forward, but the prefect’s admonishment could have set back promising dialogue with his harsh criticism of over 40,000 American nuns. Kasper insists further communication is imperative for positive change.

The National Catholic Reporter felt Kasper’s views better represent those of Pope Francis than the Vatican’s Doctrinal Office, something the media hasn’t focused on and a thought that resonates with many local nuns. Immediately following the election of Pope Francis, a local Sister on Long Island placed all of her faith in the Holy Father and the hopeful positive change to come within the Catholic Church.

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