A keenly-awaited Vatican report prompted partly by concerns over a secular mentality among some Roman Catholic nuns in the United States praised them on Tuesday for their social and educational work but urged them to stick closely to Church teachings.
The report, largely conciliatory in tone, is the result of an investigation launched in 2008 after some Vatican officials and U.S. bishops voiced concerns over the nuns. One official suggested they had been infiltrated by “radical feminism”.
The inquiry, begun during the papacy of former Pope Benedict, involved 341 religious orders and about 50,000 nuns.
Sister Sharon Holland, a leading U.S. nun, told a news conference presenting the 12-page report that it had “an encouraging and realistic tone”.
The Vatican officials had suggested some nuns did not fully espouse Church teachings against abortion and homosexuality and that some had become too involved in political issues.
But Tuesday’s report made no reference to any specific criticism and did not dwell on the controversy over the investigation, officially known as an “Apostolic Visitation”.
It said U.S. orders of nuns “should carefully review their spiritual practices and ministry to assure that these are in harmony with Catholic teaching” and urged them not to “displace Christ” while going about their social work.
But it also praised them for “selflessly tending to the spiritual, moral, educational, physical and social needs of countless individuals, especially the poor and marginalized”.
The report acknowledged that a number of nuns during the investigation had expressed the need for greater recognition of the role nuns play in the Church and felt women should have more input into decisions that affect them.
Pope Francis, who met a delegation of U.S. nuns on Tuesday, has promised to appoint women to decision-making roles in the Vatican.
The Nun Justice Project, a U.S. group which organized demonstrations to defend the nuns, said the investigation had been a waste of time.
“(The nuns) had to divert precious resources away from ministries to the marginalized just so Rome could discover what Catholics have known all along: U.S. women religious are among the most inspiring and faithful of Catholics,” it said.
The report said U.S. nuns faced big challenges because their average age was now in the mid-70s and fewer women were becoming nuns. There are about 50,000 nuns in the United States today, down from a peak of about 125,000 in the mid-1960s.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)