The Vatican announced Thursday the unexpected conclusion of its crackdown of the main umbrella group of U.S. nuns, ending a controversial takeover of a liberal group and signaling a major shift in tone and treatment of U.S. sisters under the social justice-minded Pope Francis.
The Vatican said it had accepted a final report on its overhaul of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and declared that the “implementation of the mandate has been accomplished.”
In a final joint report, the congregation and the LCWR said the group’s statutes had been revised to show its focus on Christ and being faithful to church teaching. It said an advisory committee would be created to ensure manuscripts submitted for inclusion in LCWR publications are doctrinally sound. It said speakers at LCWR events must use the “ecclesial language of faith” in their remarks and said there was a revised process for selecting award winners.
When the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took over the LCWR in 2012, it accused the group of taking positions that undermined Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”
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It envisioned a five-year doctrinal overhaul, fueled by concerns among U.S. conservatives that the group, which represents 80 percent of the 57,000 Roman Catholic nuns in the U.S., had strayed from church teaching by not focusing enough on issues like abortion.
The takeover, combined with a separate Vatican investigation into the quality of life of U.S. nuns, had deeply wounded the U.S. sisters who oversee the lions’ share of the Catholic Church’s social programs, running schools, hospitals, homeless shelters and soup kitchens. The crackdown resulted in an outpouring of popular support for their work and fueled allegations of heavy-handed, misogynistic treatment of women by the church.
In December, the Vatican’s quality of life investigation ended with sweeping praise for the sisters for their selfless work caring for the poor. Thursday’s conclusion of the doctrinal assessment signaled a similar positive conclusion.