CNN: Vatican Conducting 'Inquisition' Against Dissenting Nuns

Carol Costello, CNN Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgOn Friday's American Morning, CNN's Carol Costello followed up on her biased report from the previous day, which promoted Catholic women posing as priests, with a second report on dissenting Catholics, focusing on heterodox nuns inside the U.S. Costello promoted the claim of the nuns, who accuse the Vatican of conducting an "inquisition," or wanting to "silence nuns when they disagree with the Pope."

Substitute anchor Drew Griffin gave a brief on Pope Benedict XVI's second day in the U.K. 25 minutes into the 6 am Eastern hour, just before his colleague Kiran Chetry introduced the correspondent's report. Chetry proclaimed how the Vatican is apparently "squarely at odds with American nuns," and that many of these nuns "feel they're under siege from the Church, which is questioning the quality of their religious life." Costello picked up where the anchor left off: "[T]he Vatican is now conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns...the Vatican hopes to have a better understanding of how nuns live their lives in the United States. Nuns don't see it that way, though. Many think these investigations are nothing short of interrogations, designed to take away all they've gained."

Costello led her report by featuring Sister Maureen Fiedler, a liberal public radio host who attended the "ordination" of seven women on the Danube River in 2002. Fiedler stated during her first sound bite, "Some of my friends asked me why the Vatican officials suffer from a deep seed hatred of women." The correspondent continued by describing how "the Vatican ordered two sweeping investigations into the religious views and lifestyles of American nuns- investigations that have alarmed many sisters like Marlene Weisenbeck, whose organization represents thousands of American nuns across the country." Sister Weisenbeck was president of the Leadership Council of Women Religious until August 2010. She led the organization when it endorsed ObamaCare, contrary to the stance of the U.S. bishops' conference. Costello played two sound bites from the nun during her report.

Screen Cap of annual meeting of Leadership Conference of Women Religious from 17 September 2010 edition of CNN's American Morning | NewsBusters.orgAfter reading some of the questions from a questionnaire which was sent as part of the investigations, and playing a second clip from Sister Fiedler, the CNN correspondent described how at "this year's Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), some nuns say these investigations feel like an inquisition, and are fighting back by boycotting all or part of the questionnaire." She continued by reading Fiedler's "fears" over the investigations: "Fiedler says many nuns, who haven't lived in convents or worn habits since the 1950s, fear the Vatican wants to force them back into both. She also fears Rome wants to silence nuns when they disagree with the Pope on issues like gays in the Church or women's rights, something the Church now allows them to do."

Later in her report, Costello played two clips from Father Joseph Tobin of the Vatican's Congregation for Religious, who was also featured in her Thursday report on women "priests." He again gave mild responses to the correspondent.

Near the end of the segment, the CNN correspondent noted how "CNN analyst John Allen tells us he expects the Vatican investigations will wrap up by December, and adds if the Vatican wants nuns to return to more conservative lives, they should just be patient, because young women, who are considering sisterhood, are more conservative than their elders." But Costello featured none of these more orthodox nuns during her report, such as those represented by another umbrella group of nuns, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. The president of the Council, Mother Mary Quentin Sheridan, expressed her support of the American bishops' opposition to ObamaCare, contrary to the stance of the LCWR.

Griffin asked Costello a bizarre final question: "You know, Carol, what's interesting about this is- these women, who are in the Catholic Church, have been fighting with the Church forever for a greater role, in taking part of this. But are there any financial ties between these nuns and the Vatican? I thought that nuns in this country pretty much were financially independent and had to raise money on their own. So, I'm wondering just why they even care what the Vatican says?" Well, if these nuns want to consider themselves Catholic and appear to be Catholic, they should care what the hierarchy of their own Church says and support its teachings, something that many of the nuns who are part of the LCWR refuse to do.

The full transcript of Carol Costello's report from Friday's American Morning:

GRIFFIN: Welcome back. This is the 'Most News in the Morning,' and it is day two of Pope Benedict's historic trip to Britain. There he is meeting with students at a Catholic school today, and then religious leaders in London. Yesterday, for the first time, the Pope admitted the Church failed in handling priest sex abuse cases. He's expected to meet with victims tomorrow.

CHETRY: Well, in this country, the Vatican is squarely at odds with American nuns. Many of them feel they're under siege from the Church, which is questioning the quality of their religious life, and the sisters are having their say.

Carol Costello is live in Washington with an "A.M. Original" for us this morning. Hey, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO: Good morning-

CHETRY: So what's going on with the Vatican and the nuns?

COSTELLO: Well, Kiran, the Vatican is now conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns. The latest round of 'visitations' are now underway, and the Vatican hopes to have a better understanding of how nuns live their lives in the United States. Nuns don't see it that way, though. Many think these investigations are nothing short of interrogations, designed to take away all they've gained.

SISTER MAUREEN FIEDLER: Some of my friends asked me why the Vatican officials suffer from a deep seed hatred of women.

COSTELLO (voice-over): On Sister Maureen Fielder's Washington radio show-

FIEDLER: Could they be serious?

COSTELLO: The role of women in the Catholic Church is a popular one. The talk has been heated ever since the Vatican ordered two sweeping investigations into the religious views and lifestyles of American nuns- investigations that have alarmed many sisters like Marlene Weisenbeck, whose organization represents thousands of American nuns across the country.

SISTER MARLENE WEISENBECK, LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE OF WOMEN RELIGIOUS: We weren't quite expecting to walk into this kind of a process that would test our authenticity and our integrity.

COSTELLO: One of the investigations involved a two-part questionnaire consisting of 120 detailed questions like, 'What is the process for responding to sisters who dissent publicly from Church teaching and discipline?' 'How does the matter of the dress of your sisters lend to the dignity and simplicity of your vocation?' And this, 'What are the procedures for dealing with matters such as civil disobedience, criminal activity, sexual improprieties, et cetera?'

FIEDLER: I think they want to be able to control what nuns do. They- you know, in every aspect of their lives.

COSTELLO: (women singing) At this year's Leadership Conference of Women Religious, some nuns say these investigations feel like an inquisition, and are fighting back by boycotting all or part of the questionnaire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. Are we ready for prayer?

COSTELLO: Fiedler says many nuns, who haven't lived in convents or worn habits since the 1950s, fear the Vatican wants to force them back into both. She also fears Rome wants to silence nuns when they disagree with the Pope on issues like gays in the Church or women's rights, something the Church now allows them to do.

FATHER JOSEPH TOBIN, CONGREGATION FOR RELIGIOUS: Some of it might be a very deep seeded misunderstanding.

COSTELLO: The Vatican is hoping that Father Tobin, who was just appointed the number two official for religious life, can help calm the fear surrounding these investigations.

TOBIN: There is a need for a dialogue, and I think dialogue means that the two parties are honestly conversing in search of the truth.

COSTELLO: Sister Marlene hopes that's true, but-

WEISENBECK: There is no turning back. I don't think that that happens in any kind of living organism. God doesn't turn the Church- doesn't turn creation in opposite directions.

COSTELLO (live): In other words, there is no turning back the clock for American nuns. Our CNN analyst, John Allen, tells us he expects the Vatican investigations will wrap up by December, and adds if the Vatican wants nuns to return to more conservative lives, they should just be patient, because young women, who are considering sisterhood, are more conservative than their elders. And many, Kiran, are even willing to return to wearing habits, although, convents- maybe not so much.

CHETRY: That's interesting. And what is the fallout, if anything, about boycotting all or part of that questionnaire you were referring to?

COSTELLO: You know, we don't know. Everything surrounding these investigations is quite mysterious. The Vatican isn't talking much about it. But they're hoping that Father Tobin can calm fears and get more nuns to answer the questionnaires and also to answer- you know, there are going to be people from the Vatican coming in and having one-on-one conversations with nuns, and they're hoping that the nuns will feel comfortable doing that if their fears are- you know, calmed down somewhat. We'll just have to see. We don't know.

GRIFFIN: You know, Carol, what's interesting about this is- these women, who are in the Catholic Church, have been fighting with the Church forever for a greater role, in taking part of this. But are there any financial ties between these nuns and the Vatican? I thought that nuns in this country pretty much were financially independent and had to raise money on their own. So, I'm wondering just why they even care what the Vatican says?

COSTELLO: Well, I think you've hit the nail on the head, and the Vatican is certainly aware of that because nuns own universities. They own their own property. They very much- you know, work for charity and social justice issues. They're very much on their own and independent, yet they're very important to the Church, because they do a lot of work inside the Church and for Catholicism worldwide. So, the Vatican wants to keep them. The nuns know that they have a certain amount of financial power, and they don't really need the Vatican. But- you know, they're loyal Catholics, and it's not like they want to split from the Church or anything. They love Catholicism. So, hopefully, all will be mended soon. But these investigations- nobody knows exactly why they're being conducted, and that's just creating all of this turmoil that doesn't necessarily have to be there.

GRIFFIN: Yeah. Well, thanks, Carol. I mean, there is the faith and then there is the Catholic organization, and I guess that's where the two are disjointed from each other at the moment. But it's been an interesting couple of days- couple of [unintelligible]. Thanks so much for that.

COSTELLO: Thank you.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center