U.S. nuns respond to Vatican rebuke with call for open dialogue

ST. LOUIS Fri Aug 10, 2012 7:26pm EDT

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ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - American nuns who were criticized by the Vatican for having strayed too far from Catholic doctrine on Friday repeated their call for women to have a greater voice in the church, but sought to diffuse tensions by offering to sit down with a top official in an "open and honest dialogue."

Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, said that members believe that "open and honest dialogue may lead not only to increasing understanding between the church leadership and women religious, but also to creating more possibilities for the laity and, particularly for women, to have a voice in the church."

She said that the more than 900 LCWR members who met in St. Louis this week told their leaders to conduct a conversation with Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle but that the leaders "will reconsider if LCWR is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission." Sartain is assigned to supervise reform of the group.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which represents active and retired bishops, did not immediately comment on the sisters' statement.

Farrell's remarks came on the final day of the LCWR's first national assembly since church leadership accused the group of focusing too much on social-justice issues such as poverty and not enough on opposing abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia. The meeting was filled with prayer, singing and private sessions to discuss the Vatican mandate.

The Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith has criticized the group for remaining quiet as some nuns publicly challenged U.S. bishops on matters of church doctrine, including ordination of women, and public policy. The Vatican also criticized LCWR programs for having "radical feminist themes."

Ahead of the conference, some nuns had suggested that the LCWR, which was founded in 1956 at the request of the Vatican, might dissolve its official ties with the church and become an independent nonprofit group. Others said that the best course was to stall and hope Vatican scrutiny would fade with time.

The Vatican has put the organization under the effective control of Sartain and two other U.S. bishops, who have the power to rewrite its statutes, meeting agendas and liturgical texts. Sartain will meet with LCWR officers Saturday.

The Vatican decision has led to protests and vigils across the country in support of the nuns, including a vigil with more than 300 participants in St. Louis Thursday night.

The organization represents 80 percent of the 57,000 U.S. Roman Catholic nuns.

Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, who is one of the two U.S. bishops assisting Sartain in reviewing the LCWR's work, has said the Vatican's decision was meant to be an effort to work with the nuns to remedy "serious doctrinal concerns." But Blair said that "no middle ground" is possible on matters of faith and morals.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski. Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Lisa Shumaker)

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