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Vatican, U.S. nuns cite a new spirit of cooperation

Vatican, U.S. nuns cite a new spirit of cooperation


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The Vatican ended its controversial investigation of U.S. nuns Thursday, marking a quiet conclusion to a boisterous battle between the Holy See and the main umbrella group of American nuns.

A report noting the end of the Vatican's 7-year-old inquiry described a collaborative relationship and conversations "marked by a spirit of prayer, love for the church, mutual respect and cooperation."

It was a sharp contrast to the church's earlier accusations that the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had deviated from church doctrine and promoted "radical" feminist themes.

In 2012, the Vatican sent a bishop to oversee the rewriting of the group's laws and a review of its publications and conference speakers. The Vatican said then that, although the conference was vocal on some social justice issues, it had failed to speak out enough on other church concerns such as opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.

It also criticized the nuns for "protesting the Holy See's actions regarding the question of women's ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons."

The accusations had stunned the conference, which oversees and acts as a support system for nuns in leadership roles. The group represents 80 percent of the 50,000 nuns in the United States.

Pope Francis assumed the papacy in 2013 after the investigation into the conference had been begun. The nuns' emphasis on social justice parallels his own stress on austerity and serving the poor.

While upholding church teachings on abortion and same-sex marriage, Francis has said the church sometimes has focused too narrowly on those issues.

Thursday, a delegation from the conference had a 50-minute meeting with the pope during an annual visit to Vatican offices.

"We were also deeply heartened by Pope Francis' expression of appreciation for the witness given by Catholic sisters through our lives and ministry and will bring that message back to our members," the delegation said in a statement.

The president of the conference, Sister Sharon Holland, said the Vatican's investigation led to "long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of religious life and its practice."

She added, "We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences."

Thursday's report, issued jointly, does not detail any revisions to the nuns' laws, but it does say "measures are being taken" to ensure that the group's publications "avoid statements that are ambiguous with regard to church doctrine or could be read as contrary to it."

It also noted the Vatican's expectations regarding the selection of programs and speakers at events the nuns sponsor.

Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, seemed intent on moving past the controversy, calling the sisters "essential for the flourishing of religious life in the church."

When the Vatican investigation began in 2008, some nuns and their backers described it as an attempt to rein in the nuns, who often provide key social services in schools and hospitals, often at salaries below the going market rate.

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