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The Vatican orders reforms for progressive nuns

Apr 21, 2012
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Pope Benedict XVI is welcomed by bishops

Pope Benedict XVI is welcomed by bishops at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican on April 18, 2102. Credit: VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images

The Catholic Church has come a long way since Vatican II opened the door to reform and loosened age-old restrictions for the modern congregation. And many of the changes have been spearheaded by progressive organizations like the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Founded in 1956, the LCWR is an umbrella organization representing more than 80 percent of the nearly 60,000 women religious in the United States. It’s been at the forefront of the Catholic social justice movement, advocating for causes like immigration rights, health care reform, economic justice, gender equality and religious leadership training for women.

Last Wednesday, at the bishops’ conference in Rome, the Vatican announced that it is launching an overhaul of the LCWR which will radically alter its mission of social justice. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith cited the group for publicly challenging positions contrary to church doctrine on issues like homosexuality, abortion and the priesthood.

Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain has been appointed to oversee reforms, which will include revising LCWR statutes, reviewing their plans and programs and digging into their affiliations with other progressive religious organizations. Women religious leaders are stunned by the move; some have suggested that church leaders are trying to suppress them for publicly supporting Obama’s health care plan, which the bishops object to on the grounds it would provide government-funded abortion.

Why has the Vatican decided to crack down on nuns? With a dearth of priesthood candidates, a dwindling membership and a battered reputation, can the Catholic Church afford to alienate its women leaders, who remain active and engaged? How will Catholic women respond to these reforms?

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