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Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Photo by: Google Images

Power struggle between American nuns and Vatican looms

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Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Photo by: Google Images

American nuns will meet in St Louis next week to consider their response to a Vatican report which questioned their doctrinal loyalty.

The New York Times reports that the assembly of nuns will decide how to act in wake of the scathing critique issued in the Spring.

President of the Leadership Conference Sister Pat Farrell told the paper that the Vatican seems to regard questioning as defiance, while the sisters see it as a form of faithfulness.

She said: “We have a differing perspective on obedience. Our understanding is that we need to continue to respond to the signs of the times, and the new questions and issues that arise in the complexities of modern life are not something we see as a threat.”

The paper also quotes the former head of the church’s doctrinal office, Cardinal William J. Levada.

He met with the nuns’ leaders in June, just before he retired, and said afterwards that they should regard his office’s harsh assessment as "an invitation to obedience."

At the time, Cardinal Levada said: “I admire religious men and women. But if they aren’t people who believe and express the faith of the church, the doctrines of the church, then I think they’re misrepresenting who they are and who they ought to be.

The gathering of the nuns will decide whether or not to cooperate with the three bishops appointed by the Vatican to supervise the overhaul of their organization.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious represents about 80 percent of women’s Catholic religious orders in the United States.

The report says that the Leadership Conference is: “Considering at least six options that range from submitting graciously to the takeover to forming a new organization independent of Vatican control, as well other possible courses of action that lie between those poles."

Church scholars told the paper that the power struggle between the nuns and the Vatican has been "building for decades."

The report states that at issue are: “Questions of obedience and autonomy, what it means to be a faithful Catholic and different understandings of the Second Vatican Council.”

In response, the nuns have claimed their loyalty to Vatican II.

Sister Janice Farnham, a retired professor of church history at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, said: “We were the ones who probably took Vatican II and ran the fastest and the farthest with it.

“Sometimes our church leaders forget, we were tasked to do these things by the church. The church said jump, and we said, how high?

“The church said update, renew, go back to your sources, and we did it as best we could. We did it with a passion, and we paid dearly.”

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