Reuters Grossly Distorts Nature of Vatican Document Criticizing Nuns for Theological Heterodoxy

Reuters reporter Andrew Stern grossly distorted the nature of a Vatican document released on Wednesday which raises theological concerns about American religious orders. Regarding the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), Stern wrote that the group said it was "stunned" that "the Vatican reprimanded it for spending too much time on poverty and social-justice concerns and not enough on condemning abortion and gay marriage." Yeah, and that's just the lead paragraph of his biased article, "Nuns group 'stunned' by Vatican slap," which I found on page A2 of today's Washington Post.

Stern described the Vatican document as a  "stinging report" that "reprimanded American nuns for expressing positions on political issues that differed, at times, from views held by U.S. bishops." But a review of the actual document shows no concern at all with partisan political matters, nor does the tone strike one as "stinging." Indeed, to this non-Catholic, it sounded rather pastoral and doctrinally-focused. Here's a link to the full item, with key excerpts below (emphasis mine):

The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years. Pope John Paul II expressed this gratitude well in his meeting with Religious from the United States in San Francisco on September 17, 1987, when he said: I rejoice because of your deep love of the Church and your generous service to God’s people...The extensive Catholic educational and health care systems, the highly developed network of social services in the Church - none of this would exist today, were it not for your highly motivated dedication and the dedication of those who have gone before you. The spiritual vigor of so many Catholic people testifies to the efforts of generations of religious in this land. The history of the Church in this country is in large measure your history at the service of God’s people. The renewal of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious which is the goal of this doctrinal Assessment is in support of this essential charism of Religious which has been so obvious in the life and growth of the Catholic Church in the United States.

While recognizing that this doctrinal Assessment concerns a particular conference of
major superiors and therefore does not intend to offer judgment on the faith and life of
Women Religious in the member Congregations which belong to that conference,
nevertheless the Assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in
Consecrated Life
. On the doctrinal level, this crisis is characterized by a diminution of the
fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration which leads, in turn, to
a loss of a “constant and lively sense of the Church” among some Religious. The current
doctrinal Assessment arises out of a sincere concern for the life of faith in some Institutes of
Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. It arises as well from a conviction that the
work of any conference of major superiors of women Religious can and should be a fruitful
means of addressing the contemporary situation and supporting religious life in its most
“radical” sense—that is, in the faith in which it is rooted. According to Canon Law,
conferences of major superiors are an expression of the collaboration between the Holy See,
Superiors General, and the local Conferences of Bishops in support of consecrated life. The
overarching concern of the doctrinal Assessment is, therefore, to assist the Leadership
Conference of Women Religious in the United States in implementing an ecclesiology of
communion founded on faith in Jesus Christ and the Church as the essential foundation for its
important service to religious Communities and to all those in consecrated life.

In other words, "Sisters, you do great work, but we have some concerns about your doctrine and we'd like to address them for both your good and the good of the people God's entrusted to our spiritual care, the Church."

It's at this point that the document delves into a few particulars, but at no point does the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document chastise anyone for political dissent, focusing exclusively on theological and doctrinal concerns. And while Stern would have his readers believe the Church thinks American nuns are "spending too much time on poverty and social-justice concerns," here's what the document actually says on the matter (emphasis mine):

On June 25, 2010, Bishop Blair presented further documentation on the content of the
LCWR’s Mentoring Leadership Manual
and also on the organizations associated with the
LCWR, namely Network and The Resource Center for Religious Institutes. The
documentation reveals 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, a question that is part of the lively public
debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.
Further, issues of crucial
importance to the life of Church and society
, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life
and human sexuality
, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church
teaching.

As you can see, the LCWR is commended by the Vatican for "promoting" social justice concerns "in harmony with the Church's social doctrine," but at the same time, there's concern that the LCWR has been silent on the "right to life" and on the "Church's Biblical view" of family and sex.  It's not that the Vatican wants the LCWR to shut up about social justice matters, but that it wants it to also speak up regarding the Church's biblical stand on other issues as well.

Maybe it's too much to ask secular reporters to not look at church issues solely through the lens of institutional politics. But can they at least be dedicated to honestly and objectively reporting those conflicts?

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters