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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Good news for American nuns is good news for all

Sister Sharon Holland, IHM, current head of the Leadership Conference of
Women Religious at Tuesday's Vatican press conference. (Vatican image.)

Catholic and non-Catholic Plainfielders alike can rejoice at the conclusion of a Vatican investigation into America's women religious that was marked by Tuesday's release of its final report (see US media coverage here and here).

Some 57,000 women are members of U.S. women's religious congregations, serving in every kind of profession and ministering among some of the country's most vulnerable populations -- the very poor, prisoners, the sick (especially those with HIV/AIDS) -- and struggling for economic and social justice.

Catholic or not, there is probably not one among us whose life has not been touched -- and benefited -- in some way by these dedicated women.

It was a shock to many when, under Pope Benedict XVI, an investigation was launched in 2008, led by conservatives in the male hierarchy who have long resented changes in the Church brought about by the reforms by the ecumenical council known as Vatican II.

The orders of American nuns, and the Leadership Group of Women Religious (the umbrella organization which represents about 80 percent of American women religious) were accused of being too independent and failing to uphold Catholic teachings, especially on birth control, sexuality and other hot button issues.

Yesterday's report (see the official Vatican English version here) mainly lauds America's nuns, and brought a wave of relief to tense relations between the sisters and the Church. For an overview of the investigation from the sisters' point of view, see the website The Power of Sisterhood here.

Benedict's successor, Pope Francis has brought a breath of fresh air to the Church and the report may be a sign of his influence on the investigation. It also points the way to the possibility of a greater role for women in the leadership of the Church -- though even Francis has shied away from discussion of women's ordination.

Good news for America's nuns is good news for all of us.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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