U.S. nuns seek âopen dialogueâ with Rome over disputes
Seth Perlman/AP -
Sister Anne Nasimiyu of Kenya, right, and Sister Lucy
Marindany of Milwaukee, Wisc., join other members of the Leadership
Conference of Women Religious. The largest U.S. group for Roman Catholic
nuns met to decide how they should respond to a Vatican rebuke and
order for reform.
American nuns on Friday backed away from a direct confrontation with
the Vatican, saying they want a respectful âopen dialogueâ with Rome
about disputes over gender, human sexuality and authority.
The decision by the Silver Spring-based Leadership Conference
of Women Religious, which represents 80 percent of American nuns, came
at the end of an intense annual conference in St. Louis this week, where
about 900 women met to decide how to respond to an April report by the Vatican saying the group had strayed dangerously far from orthodoxy and the pope and needs to be âreformed.â
The women considered generally accepting the report,
rejecting it and becoming an independent Catholic organization (rather
than an actual office of Rome), or finding some middle ground.
statement Friday, the women said that members want to pursue dialogue
with the three-bishop team appointed by the Vatican to approve their
conference speakers, literature and training programs.
expectation is that âopen and honest dialogue may lead not only to
increasing understanding between the church leadership and women
religious, but also to creating more possibilities for the laity and,
particularly for women, to have a voice in the church.â
leaders âwill proceed with these discussions as long as possible, but
will reconsider if LCWR is forced to compromise the integrity of its
mission,â the statement read.
Different reactions to the nunsâ
decision showed the fragile and divided state of American Catholics over
everything from gender roles and the purpose of sex to what it means to
submit to authority.
Some experts said the womenâs announcement
that they wouldnât simply comply may be viewed as defiance. Others said
their decision not to disaffiliate their group from Rome mirrored the
frustrations of liberal Catholics who stay close to the church because
they think they can sway a Vatican laser-focused on enforcing orthodoxy.
sides in the standoff speak of âdialogue,â but they seem to mean
different things,â said R. Scott Appleby, a historian at Notre Dame.
Leading bishops âunderstand dialogue as a conversation about how best to
implement the popeâs vision of religious life and witness. The sisters
mean an open-ended give-and-take that is more of a mutual discernment of
where the Spirit is leading the Church at a given moment in history.â
the women were never discussing leaving Catholicism, the concept that
sisters â the very icons of Catholic dutifuless â could consider taking
an official step away from Rome was extraordinary.
the standoff was the most far-reaching in American Catholicism. There
have been conflicts between Rome and individual orders or theologians,
but the Leadership Conference represents the vast majority of the
countryâs 56,000 sisters.
âTheyâre saying itâs only about doctrine. But for us, the
dialogue is about reflecting on our lives out of Gospel. Theology in our
view is about exploration and discovery. They think thatâs wrong. Itâs
like cutting the heart out of who we are,â said Sister Simone Campbell, a
lawyer and lobbyist in Washington who this summer led nuns on a
well-publicized tour called âNuns on the Bus,â meant to respond to the Vatican report with more visibility.
if the differences were more about free debate or if even hot-button
issues such as contraception were on the table, Campbell said:
âAbsolutely. Theologies have evolved over two millennia. When Jesus died
and rose, it wasnât all settled.â
But leading bishops said nuns have no right to question official teachings of the pope.
âHow in the world can these consecrated religious who have professed to follow Christ more closely .â.â.
be opposed to what the Vicar of Christ is asking? This is a
contradiction,â Cardinal Raymond Burke, leader of the Vaticanâs Supreme
Court, told Catholic TV station EWTN. âIf it canât be reformed, then it
doesnât have a right to continue.â
Some were celebrating a standoff avoided â for now.
agrees to dialog with [the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith]
reps. Step one accomplished. When both sides listen there is progress,â
tweeted Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of
The number of nuns â and priests â is shrinking
in the United States, but they retain enormous clout in the developing
world, where the majority of Catholics now live.
The stakes were
reflected in the emotions on display at the conference. Asked why she
and others were crying during an opening prayer Thursday, Sister Mary
Waskowiak said at a news conference that she was moved by the questions
of the week: âWhat does it mean to surrender? What is truly being asked
of me, truly being asked of us?â
on Aug. 11, 2012 at 12:15 PM