The Vatican today unexpectedly ended its controversial takeover of the main umbrella group of US nuns, saying it had accepted a final report on its overhaul of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and declared that the "implementation of the mandate has been accomplished." The news signals a major shift in tone and treatment of US sisters under the social justice-minded Pope Francis. When the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took over the LCWR in 2012, it accused the group of taking positions that undermined Catholic teachings on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting "certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith"; the congregation envisioned a five-year overhaul to fix a "grave" doctrinal crisis. The Vatican appointed a bishop to review all of the plans and programs and oversee rewriting statutes of the LCWR, which represents 80% of the 57,000 Roman Catholic nuns in the US.
The Vatican takeover, combined with a separate Vatican investigation into the quality of life of US nuns, deeply wounded the US sisters, who oversee the lion's share of the Roman Catholic Church's social programs. The crackdown resulted in an outpouring of popular support for their work and fueled allegations of the church's heavy-handed, misogynistic treatment of women. In December, the Vatican's quality-of-life investigation ended with sweeping praise for the sisters for their selfless work caring for the poor; today's conclusion signaled a similar positive conclusion. "Alleluia!" tweeted Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale, a theologian at Boston College, while Christopher Bellitto, a church historian at New Jersey's Kean University, says the announcement was "a complete vindication" of the sisters' group and American nuns in general. "Anything coming out of the Vatican this morning is nothing other than a fig leaf because they can't say 'oops' in Latin," Bellitto says. (Read more Vatican stories.)