Nuns Call for Reform in Wake of Abuse Crisis

Aug. 25--The board of the nation's largest network of Catholic sisters is calling for systemic change in the church in the wake of the clergy abuse crisis, particularly in the exercise of the power of Roman Catholic bishops.

In a seven-point statement, issued Saturday, the board also calls for inviting Catholic laity, clergy and religious brothers and sisters to work with bishops in forming policies and in making decisions. Such collaboration would renew the church, they said.

The statement is stronger than one the board issued earlier this year. "We wanted to update the statement we made in April to reflect what has happened since then," said Sister Mary Ann Zollmann, who was installed Thursday as the new president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. "It's important for women religious that we own our part of the church."

The board members crafted the new statement based on hundreds of notes and comments made over six days last week by 1,000 participants at the annual national meeting of the conference, held at the Adam's Mark Hotel downtown. The 20-member board completed the statement Saturday after two and a half days of discussion at the Mercy Center in Des Peres.


All conference participants are elected leaders of religious communities, such as the Franciscans, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of St. Joseph and the Adorers of the Blood of Christ. The various orders have 76,000 Catholics sisters. "We are calling for a more open and inclusive church," Zollmann said. She is a St. Louis native, a former principal of her alma mater, the old Xavier High School in Midtown. Now she also serves as an elected leader of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is based in Dubuque, Iowa.

The board members crafted the statement to reflect their recognition of the integrity of most priests, concern for those wrongly accused and understanding that there is a range of criminal culpability among abusing priests. The statement stops short of criticizing bishops, mentioning cover-ups, or reassignments of known abusers, but clearly asks for lay persons to have more input. "As Catholic sisters, as Christians, who believe in redemption, we also wanted to hold out the chance that some (of the abusers) might have the hope of rehabilitation for some work," Zollmann said.

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Patricia Rice
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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