Readers may recall the fuss that ensued when former pope Benedict ordered an investigation into the largest organization of American nuns, saying that they were too concerned with social justice issues, too supportive of health care reform, and not enthusiastic enough in pushing the Catholic church’s anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-contraception message.
The investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a network of Catholic sisters that represents about 80 percent of the 50,000 nuns in the U.S., had been a public relations headache for Rome since April 2012.
That’s when the Vatican’s doctrinal office surprised the nuns – and the American hierarchy – by publishing a harsh assessment of the LCWR and announcing a plans to effectively takeover the group and institute a sweeping overhaul.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith charged that the American sisters were straying too far from traditional doctrines in the theological speculations of some members and said the sisters were focusing too much on social justice issues, such as caring for the poor and advocating for immigrants. The CDF was also upset that many sisters were active in promoting health care reform in the U.S.
The Vatican office also said the LCWR members should spend more time advancing church teachings on sexuality and abortion.
This caused a furor in US Catholic circles where nuns are in general a lot more popular than the bishops and other members of the Catholic hierarchy, because many of them actually do some good in the community, and with Benedict’s retirement, it was felt that pope Francis would try to find a way to wind down an investigation that seemed to only serve to emphasize the Catholic church’s treatment of women as inferior. That seems to have happened.
The Vatican on Thursday (April 16) officially ended a controversial investigation of American nuns with a face-saving compromise that allows Pope Francis to close the book on one of the more troubled episodes from the pontificate of his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
A brief statement from Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and leader of the effort to rein in the nuns, who were seen as too liberal, shed little light on what the long-running investigation achieved and seemed aimed at moving past the contentious saga.
Mueller said he was confident that the mission of the nuns “is rooted in the Tradition of the Church” and that they are “essential for the flourishing of religious life in the Church.”
The original report had accused the nuns of promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”
In another indicator of the thaw in relations, the delegation of American nuns met later Thursday with Francis for 50 minutes in a warm encounter that seemed to underscore the sisters’ affinity for the pope’s focus on social justice and his pastoral outreach to the world.
So that seems to be that.