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Vatican City — The Vatican plans to investigate leaders of women’s religious congregations in the U.S. to ensure their fidelity to Catholic teaching on controversial questions of ecumenism, homosexuality and an all-male priesthood.
Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, informed officials at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) of the investigation in a letter on Feb. 20, LCWR officials said.
The LCWR, a Maryland-based umbrella group that claims some 1,500 leaders from U.S. women’s communities, represents about 95 percent of the 68,000 women religious in the U.S.
The investigation, first reported by National Catholic Reporter, comes less than three months after the Vatican announced plans for a separate investigation into “the quality of the life” in 400 women’s religious congregations in the U.S.
Levada, a former archbishop of San Francisco, said the new “doctrinal assessment” is a response to a 2001 meeting between LCWR leaders and officials at his Congregation, the church’s highest doctrinal body. At that time, the Congregation was headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
In that meeting, Vatican officials asked the American sisters to “report on the initiatives taken or planned” to promote church teaching on the exclusively male character of the priesthood, the primacy of the Catholic church over other Christian denominations, and the “problem of homosexuality.”
Levada wrote that the “tenor and the doctrinal content” of speeches at LCWR meetings since 2001 had led his office to “conclude that the problems which had motivated its request in 2001 continue to be present.”
Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ doctrinal committee, will conduct the investigation, Levada wrote.
LCWR officers wrote to their members on April 2 to inform them of the investigation. They said they are scheduled to meet with Levada next Wednesday (April 22) and with Blair at some point this spring.
“LCWR faces this process with confidence, believing that the conference has remained faithful to its mission of service to leaders of congregations of women religious as they seek to further the mission of Christ in today’s world,” the sisters said in a statement.
The “quality of life” probe, which began in late January and is supposed to last two years, was prompted by a precipitous drop in the number of women entering religious communities and a rise in the average age of nuns and sisters.
Between 1945 and 2000, the number of religious sisters in the U.S.
dropped by 54 percent, from 122,159 to 79,876, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. That number has continued to drop since 2000.
By Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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