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Religious women stunned at findings of Vatican investigation


VATICAN CITY (CNS): In announcing major reform of the association of religious women in the United States of America (US), the Vatican has been both encouraging, but critical not so much of what is being done, but what is not.

Citing “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life,” the Vatican announced a major reform of an association of women’s religious congregations in the US to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

In an issue that is not likely to go away quickly, Archbishop Peter Sartain has been appointed to provide review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Vatican announced April 18.

The archbishop of Seattle will be assisted by Bishop Leonard Blair, from Toledo, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki. They have been asked to seek advice from fellow bishops, women religious and other experts.

The leadership conference, a Maryland-based umbrella group that claims about 1,500 leaders of women’s congregations as members, represents about 80 per cent of the country’s 57,000 women religious.

The presidency of the conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, issued a statement saying it is “stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

It adds, “Because the leadership of the conference has the custom of meeting annually with the staff of the congregation in Rome and because the conference follows canonically approved statutes, we were taken by surprise.”

The statement concludes, “This is a moment of great import for religious life and the wider Church. We ask your prayers as we meet with the National Board (of the conference) within the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response.”

A spokesperson for the conference says its leadership would not be granting interviews until after a wider consultation with its members in May.

The announcement from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith came in an eight-page doctrinal assessment based on an investigation that Bishop Leonard Blair began on behalf of the Vatican in April 2008.

That investigation led the doctrinal congregation to conclude in January 2011 that “the current doctrinal and pastoral situation of the conference is grave and a matter of serious concern, especially given the influence the conference exercises on religious congregations in other parts of the world.”

Among the areas of concern, it listed some of the most controversial issues of medical and sexual ethics in the US today.

“While there has been a great deal of work on the part of conference promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States,” the doctrinal congregation says.

One commentator told the Sunday Examiner that he found this is a strange criticism of the group, as the association has largely been engaged in advocacy for justice and peace, an area in which it is impossible to take up every single issue of importance.

The Vatican report continues, “Further, issues of crucial importance in the life of the Church and society, such as the Church’s biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the conference’s agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching.”

The Vatican also found, “Public statements by the conference that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers on faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.”

The Vatican claims that such deviations from Catholic teaching have provoked a crisis characterised by a diminution of the fundamental Christological centre and focus of religious consecration.

But the document also praises the “great contributions of women religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals and institutions of support for the poor, which have been founded and staffed by religious over the years.”

It insists that the Vatican does not intend to offer judgment on the faith and life of women religious.......


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