WOMEN entering religious life in the Catholic church take, among other vows, the vow of obedience. This vow demands deference to both God and church doctrine; in other words, to the men who set and uphold Catholic teaching. But the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an organisation representing 80% of American nuns, hasn’t always been so keen on meek deference. Members in the past have publicly dissented with the Vatican on issues including gay rights, abortion and the ordination of women. More recently, the group has been criticised for concentrating too much on social justice, rather than championing the church’s teachings on abortion and sexuality.
In 2008, under Pope Benedict XVI, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith initiated an investigation of American nuns, citing concerns about “a certain feminist spirit.” As Reverend Paul Sullins at the Catholic University of America explained, these women “have suggested that the church’s teachings are wrong or dated or need to be changed, and it wants to enter into some sort of conversation… It’s a huge arrogance.” The investigation continued under Pope Francis and concluded recently, with a report from the Vatican just in time for Christmas.