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Nuns answer back to Vatican criticism
Rome calls for investigation into Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Kabir Bhatia
St. Colman's hosted one of the largest vigils in the country in support of nuns, ahead of a rally on Public Square on June 8
Courtesy of K. Bhatia
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In The Region:
The largest organization of America’s 57,000 nuns is under fire from the body it answers to -- the Vatican, which says the nuns have strayed from church doctrine and into radical feminism. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports that the nuns are answering back, and one of the loudest responses is coming from Cleveland.
(Click image for larger view.)

[This has been corrected: the rally referenced in the last paragraph is unrelated to the May 30 vigil, and the Rev. Lou Papes spoke at the vigil]

The Vatican harshly condemned the sisters in April after a four-year investigation that was supposed to examine why so few women are entering convents.

The list of their alleged offenses ranges from questioning the male-only priesthood, to remaining silent on same-sex marriage, to supporting the healthcare overhaul, which contains clauses on birth-control and abortion that have polarized Catholics.

Vigil to support nuns
Last week, dozens of cities around the country held vigils supporting the nuns, and the one at Cleveland’s St. Colman’s was one of the largest.

The ornate Baroque-style church on the city’s near west side has long served Cleveland’s poor and immigrant populations. 

And on this night -- under the eyes of a 12-foot Madonna, St. Mary and St. John -- 650 priests, nuns and lay men, women and children gathered. The Rev. Lou Papes started the vigil, saying he was there simply because, "I owe my faith to these women."

Conflict can be traced to the 1960s
Dan Divis of Lorain was among those attending. He says the gulf between Rome and America’s nuns stems from the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s.

“Unfortunately, the documents came out and Proxy-Connection: keep-alive Cache-Control: max-age=0 ople ran with them rather than having the chance to understand them and implement them better, and learn themselves, and educate the people so that they could come and be everything that John XXIII was asking for when he opened up the windows and said, ‘We gotta air out the church.’ Now, what’s happening is they’re starting to close the windows.”

Sister Beverly Ann Lograsso is an Ursuline nun. Petite, with short salt-and-pepper hair, she helps women in prison prepare for their release, and advocates social responsibility to help the poor. She says that the current conflict, for her, is the Vatican’s lack of understanding of the social issues facing American nuns.

“The spirit of Vatican II is what energized me to commit my life. The experiences I’ve gained from working with marginalized people, especially formerly incarcerated women, those experiences have opened my eyes to the Gospel in a way that nothing else really has. I feel a lot of grief about the rollback of Vatican II that the current papacy seems to be spearheading. I think there’s a tension in the church between those of us who would like to continue to live the spirit of Vatican II, and those who feel there needs to be a return to doctrine and formulas.”

Diocese won't comment
The Diocese of Cleveland will not comment on the situation. Nor will Bishop Leonard Blair of the Toledo Diocese, who is one of the three men the Vatican appointed to investigate the national Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

But the sisters aren’t waiting for the investigation to act. They plan to send their executive director to Rome next week to open a dialogue with Vatican officials.

That’s exactly what’s needed, according to the Rev. Patrick Manning, head of the theology department at Walsh University.

“Both sides are really trying to be faithful to the call of the Gospel -- how they hear it and how they see it. I think one of the problems is that there’s probably misunderstanding on both sides. And a good example of something where there can be misunderstanding is a word like ‘investigation.’ Is it really an investigation or is it a consultation? Unfortunately, when you have [something like] this happen, sides tend to galvanize. What we need to be on non-dogmatic issues is a community that deals with conflicting opinions in civil conversation.”

Manning says he’s still familiarizing himself with the situation but is confident that calmer heads will prevail as a dialogue gets underway.
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