Despite Blistering Vatican Censure, US Nuns Flying High After Conference in STL

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Buoyed by public support
American nuns met in St. Louis last week and decided to tell the Vatican to cut the nunsense--albeit in gentler, more sisterly terms.

After a weekend of prayer and reflection here in Sainta Louisia, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of American nunhood, announced that it would not submit to a Vatican-mandated takeover, but would instead seek continued dialogue with Rome over charges that the group's leadership is "radical feminist".

In April, the Vatican issued an 8-page doctrine that was sharply critical of the leadership of LCWR for spending too much time on issues like poverty and social justice, and not enough time condemning homosexuality and abortion, the great mainstays of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Holy See has announced that it will assign a team of bishops to take over the LCWR and realign it with the hard and fast values of the church--a mandate LWCR rejected on Friday, in favor of dialogue with a panel of archbishops.

These "radical feminunzies" have exposed a rift between American Catholics regarding the mission and structure of the Church. St Louis, with its diverse population of 650,000 Catholics, was the perfect staging ground.

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Via CNS / Sid Hastings
Feminunzies?: Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, center, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, president-elect Franciscan Sister Florence Deacon, left, and Dominican Sister Mary Hughes, right, past president of the organization.
Rose Mary Dowling, president of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, told St. Louis on the Air that she was pleased with the outcome of the conference and looked forward to further dialogue with the bishops who have censured them.

"A long time ago I was taught that every one of us has a piece of the truth," she said. "Is there any way that we can bring those pieces together for the betterment of society, for the church and for the world at this point in history."

The Archdiocese of St Louis, released a statement emphasizing that he would be speaking at the conference, basically just because he had to:

Recently, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has brought to light some very difficult and sensitive issues involving some of the programming and content that is featured at the LCWR assemblies. Archbishop Carlson is aware of this controversy and played no role in the planning of this assembly, the selection of speakers, or its honorees.

"My presence only indicates my love for the Church, the doctrinal concern for the Holy See -- which I support -- my memory of the wonderful religious who helped me in my earliest days as a child, my gratitude for the extraordinary work of Sisters today, especially in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and my hope for resolution to the challenges that exist at this time within the community of faith," said Archbishop Carlson.

His predecessor, Cardinal Raymond Burke, has been more blunt about what he thinks of the ladies of LCWR. "If it can't be reformed, then it doesn't have a right to continue," Burke told EWTN, a Catholic television network, last week. "How in the world can these consecrated religious who have professed to follow Christ more closely ... be opposed to what the Vicar of Christ is asking? This is a contradiction."

Jennifer Reyes Lay, program coordinator for the St. Louis-based Catholic Action Network, told Daily RFT that her organization will continue to support LCWR throughout their conversations with the bishops.

"There are a number of Catholics throughout St. Louis who are concerned about what's happening," she said. "I think there's a good population here supporting the sisters and wanting to see more progressive action from the church... people want to maintain their Catholic identity in a way that's healthy and fulfilling for them."

Demographics show that with 70 million members, the Roman Catholic Church is still the largest religious denomination in the U.S. But many are fond of saying that the second largest religious denomination belongs to the 26 million people who identify as lapsed or "fallen-away" Catholics.

When asked about the Catholic Church losing the hearts and minds of modern Catholics, Fran Raia of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in O'Fallon told STL Public Radio that she sees it and it pains her.

"We're failing in ways to give hope to people, especially our young people," Raia said. "We understand the pain of Catholics who have turned away and we want to reach out to them, to you, and lament that this is happening. And that the structures are such that they cannot tolerate them [lapsed Catholics] anymore."


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