News

US Nuns Stunned, Angered by Vatican Reprimand

A group of U.S. Catholic nuns (file photo)
A group of U.S. Catholic nuns (file photo)

After a night on the street, dozens of homeless men and women file into a shelter in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring.

A walk down the hall takes them to the cafeteria, where they get a hot breakfast, and loving attention from a secularly-clothed nun, Sister Mary Mulholland.

"Lilly, how are you?" she asks one of them. "You don't look like you're too good today."


They are the down and out of this city. But their lives are a little better because after 20 years as a Catholic school religion teacher, Sister Mary left the job to help people who have nowhere else to go.

"This is how I get grounded in my life, this is what the Gospel means for me, to live out the gospel," says the 66-year-old sister.

There are many nuns in America living out their faith like Sister Mary Mulholland.  But the Vatican says they are not doing enough to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage.

Last month, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the panel that enforces Catholic orthodoxy, issued a "doctrinal assessment" of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella organization that represents the majority of the 55,000 nuns in the United States.  

The assessment said that "while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death."

The panel, headed by American Cardinal William Levada, appointed Seattle Bishop Peter Sartain to overhaul governance of the LCWR.

Sister Mary Mulholland belongs to the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, an LCWR congregation headed by Sister Pat McDermott.

"We are stunned, we are shocked," McDermott said. "I think the sense of being shocked has turned to a real deep sadness, and an anger, of the judgments that seemingly are being made about our lives."

One of the judgments in the doctrinal assessment was that nuns are flirting with "radical feminism."

McDermott says they are just living out the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, which allowed nuns to shed the habit and called on them to live among the poor.

"And now we find ourselves being judged seemingly from another standard," she said.

Donna Bethel of Christendom College, a conservative Catholic liberal arts school in Front Royal, Virginia, says the problem is that sisters are pursuing social justice the wrong way.

"You can't say you're devoted to social justice, and ignore the problem of abortion," she said. "If you cannot respect life, what is the point of all the other rights?"

McDermott sees it differently. "The Catholic tradition has always been a 'both-and' tradition, so faith without good works, that is not our story.  Faith with good works is our story," she said.

For Sister Mary, that means trying to find someone a job and a place to live, and not trying to impose her beliefs on others.

"We all carry a piece of the truth.  That is the way I see it," she said.  "And when we put it all together, we get closer to the revelation that God wants to come to."

Critics say that while the Catholic Church's male hierarchy has avoided accountability for sex scandals, it is disciplining a dwindling group of American women who have consecrated their lives to their faith.


Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 3
    Next 
by: Gab
May 07, 2012 4:32 AM
God is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction:
jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Is it any wonder the Church shows those qualities throughout the centuries?

by: Chaytahn
May 06, 2012 6:52 AM
Some American nuns violating their oath of obedience..need to support the teachings of the church or renounce their vows. I find it interesting that the traditional orders are growing in numbers and the liberal American orders are declining.

God did not implement a democracy when he created the Church with clear lines of authority which are apostolic in their succession. So why should the global church change due to these American radicals?

by: lember
May 05, 2012 8:17 AM
'US Nuns Stunned, Angered by Vatican Reprimand"

Stunned? Angered? Oh Please give me a break!
It all boils down to Live by your own vows or leave.

by: Popsiq
May 04, 2012 8:12 PM
The Heirachy need to become more Christlike. He was no great organzer, he didn't care much for the bureaucracy or the legalists of his time. His message was paired with a hands-on approach to the 'poor of spirit' as individuals not some philosophical construct.

Set the crook and mitre aside three days a week get on the workboots and labor, or go feed the poor.

Take a lesson from those sisters, Brothers, they're closer to God than you.

by: Voicebearer
May 04, 2012 6:07 PM
As long as the church will stand for the truth she will be the salt and the light of the world, the truth is to recognize Jesus the savior of every human being who obey God, who is life not death, love to every human being, love for every life God created, the way St. Francis did, beauty against aberrations of human nature, The spirit of God is strength to stand to death against the aberration in the name of love, freedom and justice. Silence in the name of love is coward and somtimes criminal.

by: Terrence Lo
May 04, 2012 5:49 PM
It is for reasons like this and many other is why I have revolked my membership with the Catholic Church and left organized religion as a whole. The nuns are following the spirit of true fellowship, compassion and love, and our former Nazi Jungen Pope has probably found the best way to break the Vatican's grip on US social life.

by: David
May 04, 2012 4:25 PM
Godwin in Nigeria: Religion is about obedience to God, agreed. Which commandment requires obedience to "those placed above you to oversee your activities?" Have we learnt nothing from the child abuse scandals of recent decades?

by: Godwin
May 04, 2012 11:25 AM
Religion is about obedience to God and to those placed above you to oversee your activities. These women should understand that the Vatican wants them to do more than just appear another Florence Nightingale. While you take care of the people's material needs, also attend to their spiritual needs by telling them how best to stand right in the faith - which is their relationship with God. If you will allow abortion and same sex marriage, then you are feeding the devil in them. BAD!

by: Religions greatest threat is Religion
May 04, 2012 8:18 AM
The Vatican must remember - Gods will and the faith are not on “condition” of “mans word” - the Vatican nor religion “define God”. When God lifts his rod against the church for their own aberrations and corruption? What is to be said? Some biblical laws set out are for the individual – transgression against those laws are not for a church, synagogue or mosque to decide -religion should relearn the bounds or they risk elevating themselves above God – thats not the purpose of faith.

by: Chaytahn
May 04, 2012 6:26 AM
The article ignores more then a hundred religious orders of nuns that have written on their web pages in support of the Vatican's position! Some of the nuns are out of line and not following church teaching. In this regard, they are in violation of their oath of obedience.

The good news is that the liberal orders are dying out and the traditional orders are growing. In 20 years the church will be much stronger and the liberal nuns will be a distant memory
Comments page of 3
    Next 

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs