In April, the Vatican issued a strong rebuke to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, or LCWR, a group that represents 80 percent of all Roman Catholic nuns in the United States. The Vatican accused the nuns of promoting radical feminism and not doing enough to speak out against abortion and gay marriage. This week, a LCWR delegation met in Rome with Vatican doctrinal officials, but little was resolved. Many Catholics agree with the Vatican’s position. But the LCWR and affiliated groups say since the rebuke they’ve experienced a groundswell of support for their activism and efforts to help the poor. Diane and her guests discuss the dispute and the role of women in the Catholic Church.


  • Maureen Fiedler Host of public radio's Interfaith Voices and Sister of Loretto.
  • John Allen Senior correspondent, National Catholic Reporter; author of "Conclave" and "All the Pope's Men."
  • Stephen White Fellow in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center.


  • 10:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. There are about 60,000 Roman Catholic nuns in the U.S. The Vatican is in a dispute with the umbrella group that represents most of the sisters. This spring, church officials issued findings of a four-year review of the group the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. They charged the nuns with straying too far from church orthodoxy. We talk about what's behind the rebuke and the role of women in Catholicism.

  • 10:07:32

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio, Maureen Fiedler of public radio's Interfaith Voices and Stephen White of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Joining us from a studio in Rome, John Allen. He's a writer for the National Catholic Reporter. And throughout the hour, we'll welcome your questions and comments. Join us by phone at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.

  • 10:08:13

    MS. MAUREEN FIEDLERGood morning, Diane.

  • 10:08:14

    MR. STEPHEN WHITEGood morning, Diane.

  • 10:08:16

    REHMJohn Allen, are you there?

  • 10:08:18

    MR. JOHN ALLENI am, Diane, and good to be with you again.

  • 10:08:20

    REHMGood to have you with us. Specifically, can you tell us what the problems are between the Vatican and the nuns?

  • 10:08:32

    ALLENSure. Unfortunately, it doesn't require any speculation because the Vatican and, more specifically, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the Vatican's very powerful doctrine office, on April 18, issued an eight-page document which sort of amounts to an indictment of the LCWR called the doctrinal assessment which lays out the charges.

  • 10:08:55

    ALLENAnd specifically they are that there is a -- what's called a policy of corporate dissent or disagreement within the LCWR on certain church teachings, such as the reservation of priesthood exclusively to men and to church teaching on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. They also charged that there is a policy of silence within the LCWR on certain aspects of the church's message, including things like opposition to abortion and defense of the traditional family.

  • 10:09:30

    ALLENAnd they also point to what they call the inroads of radical feminism by which they mean a kind of consistent critique within the LCWR of the patriarchal nature of the church, of things like referring to God as father and using masculine vocabulary in the worship at the church. And the basis of all of that, the Vatican has suggested that there is what they call serious doctrinal problems and doctrinal confusion that, in their eyes, need to be resolved within an organization that they would claim has a responsibility to faithfully uphold church teaching.

  • 10:10:09

    REHMSo with whom did the nuns meet yesterday?

  • 10:10:14

    ALLENWell, two representatives of the LCWR -- that's Sister Pat Farrell, who is the president of the group and Sister Janet Mock, who is the executive secretary -- met with the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and principally with Cardinal William Levada. He's an American, who is the top guy, the prefect in that office and, therefore, the Pope's top doctrinal adviser and some of his aides.

  • 10:10:39

    ALLENAlso present was Archbishop Jim Sartain of Seattle, who is the American bishop who has been tapped by the Vatican to lead a five-year overhaul of the LCWR to make it more acceptable from the Vatican's point of view.

  • 10:10:55

    REHMSo what happened at the meeting? How much do we know?

  • 10:11:01

    ALLENWell, we know a fair bit. I had the opportunity to do lengthy interviews both with Cardinal Levada and with Archbishop Sartain after the meeting, and, of course, the two sisters from the LCWR who took part issued their own statement. I think what we can say is that everyone who took part said that the atmosphere was good. It was open. It was cordial. People were able to say what they wanted to say. But I don't think there's any indication, Diane, that the substantive dispute between the Vatican and the LCWR was resolved as a result of this meeting.

  • 10:11:35

    ALLENThe leaders of this umbrella group for sisters in the States have indicated that they plan to go back now, consult with their members in regional meetings and also at an upcoming national assembly in St. Louis in August to determine their further response. So I think all the signals, Diane, are that the two sides are trying to stay in conversation, but they are not any closer to resolving the underlying differences.

  • 10:12:00

    REHMAnd, John, one last question. One of the Vatican's criticisms is that the LCWR failed to make the "biblical view of family life and human sexuality" the central plank of its agenda. What does that mean?

  • 10:12:23

    ALLENWell, in general, I think, if you want to translate that into political terms, it could mean that the LCWR has been, from the Vatican's point of view, unacceptably soft and, in some cases, silent on issues such as opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, in, broadly speaking, the defense of the traditional family. This, of course, is a central theme for the Vatican, both in Europe and the United States and in other parts of the world.

  • 10:12:50

    ALLENThey are very alarmed by what they see as a kind of legislative trend towards an embrace of same-sex marriage and also a softening of legislative prohibitions against abortion and embryonic stem cell research. I think they are looking for help on those issues from the LCWR, and, from their point of view, they haven't been getting it.

  • 10:13:11

    REHMJohn Allen, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, author of "Conclave" and "All the Pope's Men." Turning to you now, Maureen Fiedler, as a member of the Sisters of Loretto, what's your reaction to the rebuke?

  • 10:13:34

    FIEDLERWell, I was, just like the leadership of LCWR, absolutely stunned by this. But I think there's far more going on here than just the Vatican versus the nuns. I think this is really a dispute about what kind of church we are going to be, whether we're going to revert to the church of the 19th century where the laity -- and may I add, nuns are laity. We're not clergy -- where the laity were relegated to what the popular phrase is, pray, pay and obey kind of status or whether we're going to be the church of the Second Vatican Council.

  • 10:14:11

    FIEDLERThat was the great reforming council of the church in the early 1960s which said that the church is not just the hierarchy. It's the people of God. It's all of us, and we all work together in a collaborative meaningful way. And I think what John didn't say there is what the remedy was because it's not a very, from my point of view at least, a very collaborative remedy.

  • 10:14:36

    FIEDLERWhat the Vatican has said is, over five years, Archbishop Sartain and two other bishops are to do what, in the corporate world, you'd call a hostile takeover. They are to help the sisters revise their rules, their handbook, their plans, their programs, their conferences, their speakers, everything. So there's a real question of integrity as an organization that LCWR faces.

  • 10:15:03

    REHMMaureen Fiedler, she is host of public radio's "Interfaith Voices" and a member of the Sisters of Loretto. Turning to you, Stephen White, you think the Vatican is doing its duty by rebuking the nuns. Tell us why you feel that way.

  • 10:15:24

    WHITEWell, sure. You know, Maureen used the phrase hostile takeover. I think a better way of looking at this is to see it as sort of a performance review, some would say a long overdue performance review. The LCWR, which is distinct from the religious sisters themselves -- this is not a rebuke of religious sisters in the United States. It's a rebuke, if we're going to use that word, of their leadership conference.

  • 10:15:55

    WHITEThe leadership conference itself is instituted in conjunction with the Holy See and with the American Bishops Conference specifically to ensure that religious life among women in the United States accords with the church's view of what religious life in the United States should be. Insofar, as LCWR is failing to do that and it seems that the Vatican has at least some concerns that they are failing to do that, the Vatican has stepped in and is going to work with LCWR leadership hopefully to renew LCWR so that it's fulfilling the function for which it was created.

  • 10:16:31

    REHMSo you would argue that what's happening is that LCWR has gone beyond the bounds for which it was initially created?

  • 10:16:47

    WHITEWell, I think you -- the argument is it's going to -- it's, you know, as Maureen said, that the fundamental question here is, what kind of a church are we going to be? I would say that the fundamental question is not what kind of church are we going to be, but who decides what kind of church the Catholic Church is.

  • 10:17:04

    WHITEInsofar as there's a disagreement about that, about ecclesiology between the LCWR leadership and the Vatican, that's something that is going to be settled and, quite frankly, something that's been settled in favor of the Vatican because the Vatican, the hierarchy, decides. That's not just a 19th century idea. That's also an 18th, 17th and all the way back to the first century idea. That's always been the way it is in the Catholic Church.

  • 10:17:31

    WHITEVatican II did not change that. You can read the documents of Vatican II itself. It's very clear about the word hierarchy in teaching and passing on the truths of the faith. And if LCWR leadership has different ideas about what is true than the Vatican does, then it's incumbent upon the Vatican II to step in and say, there's a difference here. What you're saying is incompatible with what we're saying, and we need to resolve that.

  • 10:17:59

    REHMStephen White, he is a fellow in Catholic studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. You can join our discussion by calling us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Join us on Facebook or Twitter. I do look forward to hearing from you during this discussion. We'll take a short break here and be right back.

  • 10:20:04

    REHMAnd welcome back. In this hour, we're talking about the dispute between the Vatican and the umbrella group that represents most of the nuns here in the United States. Here in the studio: Stephen White, he is a fellow in Catholic Studies at Ethics and Public Policy Center, Maureen Fiedler is host of public radio's "Interfaith Voices" heard on WAMU weekly and a member of the Sisters of Loretto. John Allen is senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. He joins us from Rome.

  • 10:20:52

    REHMJohn Allen, you heard Maureen Fiedler's characterization of what the bishops, the cardinals, the Vatican is doing. You heard her describe that as a hostile takeover. Is the Vatican taking a strong stand -- too strong a stand, not enough of a strong stand? How do you see it?

  • 10:21:20

    ALLENWell, Diane, bear in mind, I'm a journalist, and therefore, you know, ought is above my pay grade. But what I can tell you as an observer of the Vatican for a long time is that this is an unusually strong move. Now, you know, the Vatican will argue -- and Steve, I think, made this point a moment ago -- that evaluation and review, which in Catholic speak is usually called a visitation. This is something that happens all the time, particularly with the religious communities and not particularly, therefore, out of the ordinary.

  • 10:21:52

    ALLENBut I think the kind of particularly targeted review of a particular conference of Women Religious in a particular country, in this case the United States, which has ended not simply with same vague recommendations but with a very detailed sort of bill of indictment coupled with, as Maureen rightly indicates, a pretty detailed plan of reform or renewal. All of that is fairly extraordinary, and it does indicate that the Vatican believes that something particularly important is at stake here that requires a fairly strong hand.

  • 10:22:27

    REHMAnd just to inform our listeners, we did invite representatives of the LCWR to be on today's program. They are not giving interviews at the time. They said the LCWR will gather its members in regional meetings and in its August assembly to decide the course of action in response to the Vatican's assessment. Maureen Fiedler, have we had a response from the LCWR as yet?

  • 10:23:07

    FIEDLERWell, we have only the initial statement that they issued on their website right after the assessment came out. And it basically said that they found the accusations against them unsubstantiated, that the process by which they were arrived at was anything but transparent.

  • 10:23:24

    FIEDLERAnd they noted that the actions of the Vatican has caused scandal and pain among ordinary Catholics in the United States, witnessing the great outpouring of support that we nuns have had across the country. So that's really been the only statement I have seen, and those are the concerns they presented presumably in detail to the Vatican.

  • 10:23:47

    REHMTell us a little bit about the LCWR, Maureen, and how it got it started.

  • 10:23:54

    FIEDLERAll right. It actually got started at the instigation of the Vatican, and I'm -- 1950s, perhaps, I think. Anyway, it was set up as an umbrella group of the elected leadership of the communities of women across the United States.

  • 10:24:10

    REHMSo not just nuns but women who were in high positions within the church?

  • 10:24:17

    FIEDLERNo, nuns.

  • 10:24:18

    REHMAll nuns.

  • 10:24:18

    FIEDLERIt was intended to be religious communities.

  • 10:24:20


  • 10:24:21

    FIEDLERYes, it's all nuns. And they network at one level. They collaborate, they share ideas, the latest trends in -- I don't know, spirituality or religious formation or how to green your mother house, you know, and make it more environmentally friendly. They are also the official representative of American nuns to the Vatican, and they've been doing this for a number of years. And many of the great leaders of American nuns have been the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

  • 10:24:52

    FIEDLERAnd let me say, I think it's very important to note religious life has not been just one thing. Religious life has changed and evolved over the centuries, and that's what's been going on with Women Religious today. We looked at Vatican II, the Second Vatican Council that called us to change and renew our communities, to go back to the spirit of our foundresses.

  • 10:25:17

    FIEDLERAnd we discovered they were not pussycats, those foundresses. They were brave women who started whole new ministries. And when you look at the history of religious life, it used to be just cloistered. There were huge struggles in Catholic history to bring women out of the cloister, so they could work with the poor and the cities and so forth. We're in that tradition.

  • 10:25:38

    REHMAnd to what extent do you think that the issues that these Women Religious are now facing have become very different going along with the changes in society?

  • 10:25:56

    FIEDLERWell, I see this as a continuing evolution because what nuns have taken most seriously from the Second Vatican Council is the document on the church in the modern world, which called us to be activists for justice and peace in the world, and I think that's extremely important. I happen to be a member of NETWORK, which is a Catholic social justice lobby, and they're about to launch a program that they call -- and this is a scream. It's called Nuns on the Bus.

  • 10:26:28

    FIEDLERAnd then they're going to take nine-state tour from June 18 to July 2 in about nine states, but emphasizing the works that nuns have done in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, schools, medical facilities, et cetera, mainly with the poor and vulnerable and counterposing that to the budget of Paul Ryan, who is also Catholic, may I say, saying that the cuts that he would make to the poor and the vulnerable are things that they oppose.

  • 10:26:57

    REHMAnd what about the specific issues that the Vatican is highlighting and that is same-sex marriage and abortion, saying that the nuns have not come out strongly enough in support of the Vatican's position?

  • 10:27:18

    FIEDLERWell, LCWR, and as far as I know, has no position on those particular issues. I -- and I don't know, I can't tell you the reason why because I'm not personally a member of LCWR. But I know that they've chosen to give their emphasis to the social justice issues. However, there definitely is a strong feminism among the leadership of nuns. And, again, we can quote the Second Vatican Council, "Every type of discrimination based on sex is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent." That's the words of the world's bishops at Vatican II, and we take that most seriously.

  • 10:27:59

    REHMAll right. And to you, Stephen, considering the words of Vatican II that Maureen Fiedler has just quoted, put that into the context of the Vatican's complaints against LCWR.

  • 10:28:18

    WHITESure. Well, I'm glad Maureen cited that passage from Gaudium et Spes in Vatican II. A little bit -- earlier in the same document the bishops write, to the extent that believers neglect their own training in the faith or teach erroneous doctrine or are deficient in their religious moral and social life, they must be said to conceal rather then reveal the authentic face of God and religion. So the quote that Maureen brought up about discrimination is absolutely true.

  • 10:28:49

    WHITEBut what the church is concerned with here is not are the sisters doing good social work. It's, are they doing good social work, and are they teaching what the church teaches is true? This is not a social justice review. It's a doctrinal assessment. The question here is, are the members of the LCWR teaching in union with the church? Are they spreading what the church says to be true, or is there a discrepancy between the truth being promoted by the LCWR and what the church teaches?

  • 10:29:23

    WHITENow, Maureen said something interesting. She doesn't know if the LCWR has any position on issues like abortion, and I take her at her word. It would be very striking to me, and indeed, I think, to most Catholics to find that LCWR has no position on the issue of abortion. I mean, it sort of goes without saying that you would think that the Vatican's representative among Religious Women in the United States would have something to say on an issue that time and time and time again the Catholic hierarchy has made clear that this is a fundamental issue of social justice.

  • 10:29:55

    REHMBut, so far, no public statement has been issued, Maureen?

  • 10:30:01

    FIEDLERNot that I know of. And as I say, Diane, I don't know the reason for a fact. I can only speculate that probably a lot of the organizations of nuns -- you have to realize a lot of these women are medical professionals. We're a fairly highly educated group, nuns as a whole. And I'm sure many see a lot of complexities in decisions about abortion and reproduction.

  • 10:30:24

    FIEDLERAnd so, therefore, the let's-make-it-illegal-everywhere-and-in-all-cases may not appear to them to be a solution to the problems they see. Nobody's going out promoting abortion or waving a flag in favor of it, but I think there's a lot of complexity that many of these women see.

  • 10:30:43

    REHMStephen, you've said that the church's concerns about American nuns is nothing new, that this goes way back. Talk about the history of some of those conflicts.

  • 10:30:58

    WHITEWell, first, let me say I don't want to give the impression that there's a longstanding tradition of suspicion between, say, the hierarchy and nuns, Women Religious. There's none. I mean, we're on the same side here. Fundamentally, we're all Catholics.

  • 10:31:12

    WHITEBut even if you look at just the doctrinal assessment that the CDF put out, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith put out, some of the things that they cite on doctrinal issues -- again, issues of teaching sort of in harmony with what the church teaches -- go back to the period immediately following the Second Vatican Council of the 1970s.

  • 10:31:31

    WHITESo the idea that there are at least rumblings of sort of heterodoxy among American Women Religious is not exactly new. I don't think that is something that anyone is surprised about. Now, those things need to be addressed, and I think that it's entirely proper that the Vatican is working with the leadership of the LCWR to work this out.

  • 10:31:55

    WHITEI mean, one of the reasons the Vatican is concerned about getting this right is because LCWR and the Women Religious who are members of LCWR and the congregations that -- of which they are superiors are vital to the church's work in this country and are a powerful witness to the truths of the Catholic faith and to the vitality of the Christian faith. And that's something that's important. If it wasn't important, I don't think the Vatican will be going to such lengths to make sure that we get this right.

  • 10:32:25

    REHMStephen White, he is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center here in Washington, D.C. Maureen Fiedler is host of public radio's "Interfaith Voices," a member of the Sisters of Loretto. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Turning back to you, John Allen, in Rome, tell me how serious a difference between the nuns and the Vatican you see this issue to be.

  • 10:33:07

    ALLENWell, first of all, I'm not sure how far one can push this in terms of being an issue that divides the Vatican and the nuns because talk -- to talk first about the nuns in the States, there are, as you said, some 60,000 of them, and they are not all of one mind. I think there is a certainly a minority -- but an important minority that tends to be a little bit younger -- of nuns in the States that would be closer to the Vatican than to the LCWR on some of these issues.

  • 10:33:39

    ALLENAnd even in the Vatican, I'm not sure everyone is in a full, upright and locked position with quite how the whole -- how the Congregation for the Faith has come down on this question. But in any event, I think it is fair to say that if we phrase this in terms of the relationship between the Congregation for the Faith, which is the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog issue -- agency, and the LCWR, there are some very significant differences in place.

  • 10:34:06

    ALLENSome of them are doctrinal, and some of them have to do with sort of authority and accountability. I mean, in some ways, I think the Vatican's argument is that the LCWR is an entity that was created by the Vatican and recognized by the Vatican.

  • 10:34:23

    ALLENIt officially represents the church, and therefore its accountability is to the Pope and the Holy See, whereas I think the leadership of the LCWR, while not rejecting any of that, would say they are also accountable to their own members, they are accountable to the people they serve, they're accountable to the broader church and to the broader community, and that they're struggling to reconcile those various constituencies.

  • 10:34:49

    ALLENAnd so both in terms of the issues at stake and also the question of, as Steve put it, who gets to decide, I think there are some very significant differences here. And at least at this stage, it is not clear to me or to other observers how those differences are going to be worked out.

  • 10:35:06

    REHMAnd, Maureen Fiedler, do you believe that this could eventually lead to a separation of LCWR from the Vatican to forming a brand-new not Vatican-related Women Religious organization?

  • 10:35:30

    FIEDLERIt's very possible, Diane. That has been suggested by no less a figure than Sister Joan Chittister, who's probably one of the most prolific authors in Catholic spirituality and highly respected and a former president of LCWR. And she suggested that the group spin off, what would be an independent nonprofit. Now, I hasten to add, we're not talking about leaving the church here. Just what we would be talking about is forgoing canonical status, which is not being the official representative of nuns to the Vatican anymore.

  • 10:36:00

    REHMBut wouldn't that also mean a foregoing of a certain amount of funding?

  • 10:36:06

    FIEDLERNo. The LCWR is funded by its member communities. And I daresay if LCWR were to become non-canonical, probably a few communities would drop off, but I think most would continue to be a part of LCWR.

  • 10:36:22

    REHMDo I understand correctly that the NETWORK's membership has soared since the April rebuke?

  • 10:36:31

    FIEDLERThat's entirely possible. I'm a member of NETWORK. I'm not on the staff. I hope it has because they certainly do marvelous work. NETWORK does.

  • 10:36:40

    REHMAnd those are certainly the reports we've been seeing. John Allen, any report from you?

  • 10:36:49

    ALLENYou mean in terms of the membership of NETWORK?

  • 10:36:51

    REHMYes, yes.

  • 10:36:51

    ALLENNo, I can't comment on that. But I can say that it is clear that there has been a substantial grassroots ferment around this perceived crackdown on American sisters that is unusual in the United States. And I think that's because, to be honest, when the Vatican cracks down on a theologian, most American Catholics in the pews have never met a theologian. When there is an internal crisis in the Vatican such as the current Vatican leak scandal, most American Catholics certainly have never met a Vatican official.

  • 10:37:21

    ALLENBut they have, almost all of them, met nuns. They've been educated by nuns. They've been taken care of by nuns in the hospitals. They've seen the nuns' work in the church's social service centers and so on. And so there is a grassroots affection that is fairly singular.

  • 10:37:35

    REHMJohn Allen, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, author of "Conclave" and "All the Pope's Men." Short break. We'll be right back.

  • 10:40:04

    REHMIn this hour, we're talking about the dispute between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. There has been a rebuke of that organization issued. We have many, many emails similar to this. And it's from William, who says, "The Vatican charged the nuns with rebellion because of their concern about the poor but said nothing about the pedophile priests. This moral bankruptcy is why I am an ex-Catholic." Maureen Fiedler, how do you see the two issues? Are they at all connected?

  • 10:40:57

    FIEDLERYou know, I don't know, Diane. I must admit I've wondered that because one way to deflect attention from something horrific, like the sex abuse scandal, which I think everyone agrees is horrific, is to blame somebody else for something. But I don't know if there's a connection there or not. I think that going after LCWR is a different and distinctive kind of thing, and it's an attempt, I think, to reassert some of the male hierarchical authority in the church which they've lost a lot of ground on with the pedophile scandal.

  • 10:41:35

    REHMStephen, the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican losing ground over the pedophile issue?

  • 10:41:46

    WHITEYou know, I think, first of all, like Maureen said, there's nobody who disagrees with the idea. This has been a huge disaster for the Catholic Church, for the Catholic hierarchy in particular, moral scandal. But I think that, as far as losing ground, it depends on what you mean by -- what ground are we talking about. The efficacy of public moral witness, I think they've definitely lost ground and lost credibility on that and are working hard, I think, to try and regain that.

  • 10:42:17

    WHITEAs for the credibility of the hierarchy as such, of the church leadership as such to speak the truth for the church, Catholic theology places that authority not on the virtues of the individuals but on the office that they hold. The Catholic Church, not to make light of it, but it has a long and sort of inglorious history of bad priests and bishops, starting with one Judas Iscariot and running on through today. And the actions and failings of our priests and bishops are a constant source of scandal.

  • 10:42:56

    WHITEBut they do not, I don't think, undermine the truth that Jesus Christ himself entrusted to his bishops and his apostles and those that follow them in their office with a certain authority that is not deserved, is not earned. It's not something that anybody has a right to. But it's something that has been given to us by Jesus Christ himself, and it's something that is guaranteed by him.

  • 10:43:23

    REHMJohn Allen, what is the Vatican or what kinds of statements, what kinds of actions do you see the Vatican taking with regard to the pedophile issue?

  • 10:43:42

    ALLENWell, Diane, that's probably a show in and of itself to talk that through.

  • 10:43:44

    REHMOf course.

  • 10:43:46

    ALLENBut, in general, you know, I've been covering this story and the Vatican's response to it for more than 10 years. I can certainly say that where the Vatican is today is light-years ahead of where it once was. At one time, you could find senior Vatican officials who would basically deny that there is any kind of problem with child sexual abuse in the church or who would suggest it was perhaps limited to the Anglophone region of the world and who were in open opposition to any kind of reforms in church law to speed up the process of disciplining abuser priests.

  • 10:44:22

    ALLENI mean, all of that is gone. I mean, today, the Vatican is actually trying to push bishops' conference -- in bishops' conferences, that is the leadership of the church in parts of the world where the scandal has not yet erupted, to take pro-active measures. You know, the Pope himself has met with victims of sexual abuse more than six times.

  • 10:44:42

    ALLENJust yesterday, the cardinal, a Canadian by the name of Marc Ouellet, who is in charge of the Congregation for Bishops who is in Ireland for a Eucharistic congress, met again with victims of sexual abuse and publicly acknowledged what he called the church's shame and remorse. So there is no doubt that there has been sea change in terms of attitudes here.

  • 10:45:04

    ALLENNow, critics would certainly argue that while all of that is true to good, they would contend that the Vatican still has not done enough. And in particular, they would argue that that the harsh new accountability that the Vatican has put in place for priests who abuse is not yet been matched by similarly Draconian accountability for bishops who cover up acts of abuse. So that debate is going to go on, but I will tell you, from personal observation, that certainly there has been a dramatic change in both the tone and the substance of the Vatican's approach.

  • 10:45:35

    REHMDo you see any relationship between the rebuke of the LCWR and the pedophile priests?

  • 10:45:48

    ALLENWell, will tell you that I have interviewed all of the senior Vatican officials who are in charge of this process into a person. They would all insist that that is not the case. And further, I think the other sort of indicator that perhaps linkage there doesn't work is that, as all of your guests have indicated, the issues that are in this assessment predate -- insignificantly predate the explosion of the sex abuse crisis in the United States.

  • 10:46:15

    ALLENYou know, there was a very celebrated book called "Sisters in Crisis," which collected some of the criticisms of Women Religious in the states by a female journalist by the name of Ann Carey, that was published as early as 1999, and all of that simply synthesized stuff that had been around for a couple of decades before that. So in some ways, I would say that the issues in this assessment were percolating well before the sex abuse crisis reached its crescendo, which probably suggests that the two things, ultimately, are not related.

  • 10:46:44

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Cape Cod, Mass. Good morning, Karen. You're on the air.

  • 10:46:52

    KARENGood morning, Diane. Thank you for having me here.

  • 10:46:54


  • 10:46:56

    KARENI just wanted to give you a quick background of myself. I'm 40. I was educated by the Sisters of St. Joseph for 12 years. And I'm also the mother of a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old, both girls. And, unfortunately, I've recently come to the conclusion that I will not be raising my daughters in the Catholic Church for pretty much the sole reason that women in the church have been treated as second-class citizens.

  • 10:47:27

    KARENAnd I just wanted to commend the sisters of the LCWR because they have been the voice for social injustice in the Catholic Church, and I hope that they continue to be. And I support them 100 percent.

  • 10:47:41

    REHMThanks for your call. Stephen, are you concerned that, in the long run, the church will suffer because of its treatment of relationship to hierarchy over women?

  • 10:48:02

    WHITEWell, I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that, hierarchy over women. The church is organized in a hierarchy, but it's not a hierarchy over women. I think it's important to recall that the most perfect example of discipleship, the most perfect witness to what it means to be the disciple of Christ in history, once and for always, is a woman, Mary. Catholics esteem and venerate the Blessed Virgin over all of the saints, and that's an archetype for discipleship.

  • 10:48:42

    WHITEHer life is archetype for discipleship, the willingness to say, not my will but your will be done. Now, some would argue, well, that's a cop-out. All the important decisions are made by men, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I think it's a mistake to look at the organization of the church hierarchal at is through primarily political categories of power and assertiveness or sort of male-female relationships. I think that's just fundamentally a mistake. The church doesn't view itself in that way.

  • 10:49:22

    WHITEIt views its organization as coming from Christ himself. And that authority in the church is not intended to be a status symbol. Christ warns his disciples very sternly, do not lord your authority over one another. And doing so is a sin. But that doesn't mean that the authority is not there, and it doesn't mean that the authority is not real. It's an authority to serve. It's one of the Pope's favorite title is the Servant of the Servants of God. And I think that says a lot.

  • 10:49:52


  • 10:49:52

    FIEDLERMm hmm. I think it's very interesting when we have what I think of, with all due respect, the pedestalization of Mary, that she is the first person that brought the body and blood of Christ to Earth, which is what Catholics think of as the Eucharist. And the irony of it is that we don't ordain women to the priesthood today. And I think that woman's raising her daughters in or were having -- you know, unwilling to raise her daughters in the faith is part and parcel of that.

  • 10:50:22

    FIEDLERSomeone just told me a story before I came here about a little girl, about 8 years old, who said to her mother when they were going to a Catholic Church, like, do they have a woman priest there? And her mother said, no. And she said, well, why are we going here then? And let me say, statistically, these are not aberrations. Statistically, ex-Catholics are the second largest denomination in the United States, the second largest. And a lot of the leaving of the church has to do with the status of women or the lack of status, and it has to do with the sex abuse scandal.

  • 10:50:57

    REHMAll right. To Brenham, Texas. Good morning, Katherine.

  • 10:51:02

    KATHERINEHello, Ms. Rehm. I am fan of your show. I listen to you almost every day.

  • 10:51:07

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:51:08

    KATHERINEI will distinct myself by saying that I'm one of your few conservative listeners.

  • 10:51:13

    REHMI think we have a great many, as a matter of fact. Katherine, go right ahead.

  • 10:51:19

    KATHERINEWell, basically, I just wanted to say that I had to leave the Episcopal Church simply because they had gotten away from biblical doctrine and turned more into a social justice club. And so I commend the Vatican for doing what they can to keep their structure. My question is I don't understand why it appears to me that the philosophy and the views of this organization mirrors mostly the Unitarian view.

  • 10:51:54

    KATHERINEAnd I don't understand why -- if they really feel that strongly about it, why they don't go to another denomination? You know, why -- if you don't believe the Catholic doctrine, why don't you just align yourself with a denomination that does?

  • 10:52:11


  • 10:52:11

    FIEDLERMm hmm. Well, first of all, I don't leave because it's my church, too. I value the church. I love the church. I love its traditions. And, frankly, I don't see any contradiction at all between the teachings of the Bible, the teachings of scripture and social justice. They are part and parcel of each other. You know, when you look at the words of Jesus, he never said anything about homosexuality. He never said anything about abortion. He had a lot to say about the poor and the vulnerable and about violence. That's the very essence of what we're supposed to be about it seems to me.

  • 10:52:43

    REHMAll right. To Takoma Park, Md. Good morning, Jim.

  • 10:52:48

    JIMHow are you, Diane? A great show.

  • 10:52:48

    REHMFine. Thanks. Thank you.

  • 10:52:49

    JIMI want to make a comment but also ask John a question.

  • 10:52:54


  • 10:52:54

    JIMThe comment is -- I'm a journalist. And -- but I spent about half of my career in public interest work and tax policy, civil rights, stuff like that. And I worked very, very closely with many of the nuns and certainly through NETWORK, their main lobbying group based here in Washington. One of the unique things about the nuns -- and I'm a practicing Catholic. I consider myself a loyal Catholic, sort of. Anyway, the -- what really is unique about NETWORK and nuns in general is the lack of egomaniac.

  • 10:53:23

    JIMMost of us in public interest work stab each other in the back all the time trying to get credit. And that has never -- I've never ever experienced that with the women in NETWORK. The question I want to ask John, who I read very faithful -- I would rate National Catholic Reporter in the National Journal magazine as two greatest collections of American journalist that I know of. And I learned a lot from reading John's article.

  • 10:53:47

    REHMGood. Let's have your question, Jim.

  • 10:53:50

    JIMI think -- and I'm a guy with a lot of experience in this. I think the Vatican made a huge mistake and has bitten off way more than they can chew in taking on these women. And I wonder what John is feeling about that issue.

  • 10:54:01

    REHMAll right. And before John responds, let me remind you, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." John, I'm not sure you want to take on that question.

  • 10:54:13

    ALLENWell, listen. I mean, I'll take on any question you want to throw me. Whether I have a coherent answer to it is another matter. But, look, I think it is clear that the powers that the -- in the Vatican -- again, and I sometimes hesitate to use that term the Vatican because the truth is the Vatican is a complex bureaucracy. And its different offices may not always all be on the same page.

  • 10:54:34

    ALLENBut certainly in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the agency that issued this assessment and has demanded this overhaul, I think it is clear that they now recognize the significance of the grassroots response to these process that we have seen in the States. They know that they're facing something unusual.

  • 10:54:55

    ALLENThe proof of that is that Cardinal William Levada, the American who is in charge of that agency, on Tuesday afternoon, just hours after this meeting with LCWR broke up, sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with me for more than an hour to discuss the process with LCWR. This is not something that Cardinal Levada does casually. He was -- he is notoriously press averse.

  • 10:55:19

    WHITEHe prefers to operate behind the shadows. That decision in itself speaks volumes that they understand that there is a sort of public ferment around this issue that doesn't normally surround Vatican interventions with, say, individual priests, individual theologians and so on.

  • 10:55:37

    REHMWhat would happen, in your view, John, if this group of American nuns separated from Rome?

  • 10:55:50

    ALLENThat's actually something I discussed in my interview with Cardinal Levada because there are really two possibilities here. One could be that LCWR would say, we are not going to cooperate with this process, in which case, the Vatican might choose to formally decertify it as legitimately Catholic. And Cardinal Levada floated that possibility. The other is that LCWR on its own could choose to walk away and to reincorporate under civil law.

  • 10:56:13

    ALLENIn either case, Cardinal Levada's answer was that probably what have to happen is that some new organization that would be more faithful to church teaching would have to be created to take the place of LCWR as the Vatican's official interlocutor, so to speak, with the religious one and in America.

  • 10:56:34

    REHMJohn Allen, he is senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Stephen White, a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Maureen Fiedler, she is host of public radio's "Interfaith Voices" that's heard on WAMU here in Washington at 4 p.m. on Sundays. She is also a member of the Sisters of Loretto. If you'd like to hear her program in your jurisdiction, you can check your own station's website. Thank you all so much. And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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