The Vatican vs. the Rebel Nuns: A Summit in the Holy See

Time has just published my story ab out the conflict between the Vatican and American nuns.

The meeting had been billed as a showdown. In reality, it had more the flavor of two opponents sizing each other up. Afterward, the Vatican press office described the encounter, between top officials in the Catholic Church and a group of American nuns the Vatican has accused of straying from official Catholicism, as having taken place “in an atmosphere of openness and cordiality.” For the nuns, representatives of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an umbrella organization that represents some 80% of Catholic nuns in the U.S., the meeting was “an opportunity to express our concerns” directly to officials at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican office charged with policing church doctrine now headed by the American Cardinal William Levada.

It’s not surprising that little was decided. The standoff is a long-standing one, dating back to the period following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, when the Holy See instituted a series of reforms and liberalizations, among them a call for religious orders, including nuns, to renew themselves. In the following years, many orders began allowing their members to shed the severe habits that date back to medieval times, to work outside of traditional church institutions, like schools and hospitals. Increasingly, nuns began to get involved in social movements, joining the battles for civil rights, setting up AIDS hospices and launching antipoverty campaigns. “Suddenly the lid was off,” says Kenneth Briggs, author of Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns. “Sisters were deciding for themselves what to do. And back at headquarters, the Vatican and bishops in particular got very nervous.”

Read the rest.