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
 Previous   Next 
by: Francis Douglas
May 04, 2012 3:35 AM
All the best to the American women. You need GREAT COURAGE TO STAND UP TO BULLIES.
Stay strong and just go to the people like Aquino did in the Philliines.

by: NVO
May 03, 2012 5:47 PM
AGAIN, I SAY AGAIN....The RC church is a hideous CONFIRMED Amillennial/Replacement Theology church. Both doctrines based on and rooted in ANTISEMITISM. Catholic faith and practices are by and large NOT Biblical and open up a host of theological problems. Avoid this DEN OF LIES and run for your spiritual life if still in that so-called church!

by: Sophia
May 03, 2012 4:06 PM
There hasn't been a Pope worthy of the name sitting, ex cathedra or otherwise, since John XXIII. The current man knowingly shielded sexual predators from justice -- and their victims from mercy -- as have those before him. Attend to the log in your own eye, Benedict.

by: Kate Hammill
May 03, 2012 2:18 PM
Hang tough, Sisters! The whole world is on your side...

by: John C
May 03, 2012 10:17 AM
I was taught by siters, I have relatives who are sisters, I know their friensd, and I have old friends who are sisters. This new "doctrine" is absolutely wrong and an insult to the sisters who have done God's will and "...helped the least of my brethern...".

by: Karen
May 03, 2012 8:09 AM
The best way of diverting attention away from the sex scandal involving the males of my Church is to turn negative attention to the caring Sisters who truly carry out the teachings of our Lord. They should be humbly thanked and praised by the male hierarchy of the Church instead of castigated. Shame on them! I fully support the Sisters and my money is donated only to them.

by: (Rev.) David Dismas
May 03, 2012 8:02 AM
There are those who will say this is an internal matter of the Roman Church and that those of us outside should not comment; I disagree. To silence the prophetic voices of Roman Catholic women religious is to further impoverish the world, to sit idly by while their voices are muted is to conspire against a true preaching of the Gospel, to ignore the current assault on those serving the least and the neediest is to abandon the poor and needy that all of us called to serve God are called to serve.

by: FerialDay
May 03, 2012 6:32 AM
The male hierarchy has a responsibility to thank and to praise the Sisters for living the message of the Gospel and for being the witness to Christ's message working in the world.

by: laura
May 03, 2012 6:26 AM
instead of making annual donations to the bishops appeals each year, I am going to start sending this portion to the nuns who do all the work and who have taken a vow of poverty (unlike the priests). Rome will only hear when the money is not there and it will take years for them to feel it.

by: Chris
May 03, 2012 4:53 AM
If things continue this way, women will stop becoming nuns, as men have stopped entering the seminary. Then we will have even fewer nuns to help/feed the poor, OR address abortion and same-sex marriage. They have it all wrong. I fully support these wonderful nuns.
Comments page of 3
 Previous   Next 

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs