The mills of the Vatican grind slowly. So when the Roman Catholic Church delivered a critical assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious—an umbrella group whose 1,500 members represent 80 per cent of the 55,000 nuns in America—after considering it for two years, nuns said they felt blindsided. Some, like Sister Simone Campbell, thought the Vatican was miffed over “our health care letter.” She was referring to the standoff between the U.S. government and Catholic bishops over Barack Obama’s health care regulation requiring Catholic institutions to provide employee insurance that covered contraceptives. Dozens of nuns, many of them LCWR members, had signed a letter in support of the measure.
Although the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church’s chief doctrinal enforcement body, did not specify the health care issue, many observers read it into the “major areas of concern” the CDF identified. Those included various LCWR stances “not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, and LCWR members criticizing male-only priesthood. The rebuke to the LCWR may be only the Vatican’s first move in reining in American nuns. A much wider ranging Church examination into all women’s religious orders in the U.S., which began in 2006, delivered its report to the pope in December, but the results haven’t yet been made public.