Francis supports Benedict overhaul of leading U.S. nuns group

April 16, 2013 at 2:30 AM
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VATICAN CITY, April 16 (UPI) -- Pope Francis says Benedict XVI was right in calling for the leading U.S. Catholic nuns group to be reined in for disobeying bishops and backing women's rights.

Francis "reaffirmed the findings" of a Holy See investigation and "program of reform" for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Vatican said almost a year to the day after Benedict's assessment was announced.

The canonically approved umbrella conference of women's religious communities, based in Silver Spring, Md., serves as a support system and voice for some 57,000 sisters, or 80 percent of U.S. nuns.

Benedict said April 18, 2012, many group members had "serious doctrinal problems," including challenging church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and said LCWR conferences suffered from "a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

He also reprimanded the sisters for making public statements that "disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals."

The conference has said God speaks through many people, not just through bishops.

Francis' support of Benedict's directive to rein in the group was conveyed to LCWR leaders in a Vatican meeting Monday with Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, head of the church doctrinal watchdog, known officially as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican statement said.

In the meeting, Mueller thanked the nuns for their "great contribution" to the U.S. church, especially "in the many schools, hospitals and institutions of support for the poor" that religious sisters founded and staff.

But he made clear the Leadership Conference was "under the direction of the Holy See" and its task was to promote "cooperation" with local bishops and bishops' conferences.

The conference said in a statement the meeting was "open and frank."

"We pray that these conversations may bear fruit for the good of the church," said the statement by conference President Sister Florence Deacon, President-elect Sister Carol Zinn and Executive Director Sister Janet Mock.

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain was ordered by Benedict last year to reform the group with Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., and Bishop Leonard Paul Blair of Toledo, Ohio, who had been in charge of investigating the group.

They were given up to five years to revise the group's statutes, approve of every speaker at the group's public programs, revise its liturgies and rituals, and replace a handbook the group uses to facilitate dialogue on matters the Vatican said was already settled doctrine.

The bishops group is in talks with the conference and has yet to impose any changes.

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