A group of U.S. priests has sent a letter to Pope Francis criticizing Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for his harsh takedown of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
The association of 1,000 priests said that Müller’s public rebuke of the nuns’ group, which was not given an opportunity to make a public response at the meeting, was a “disservice to the process”:
Does that kind of premature, one-sided public comment build trust? Does It help the process or the public perception of the Church? Rather it projects what many perceive as clerical/hierarchical bullying of religious women, publically shaming them. That is deeply regretful. A joint concluding statement after the discussions would have been more appropriate.
Noting that Francis has called for “an entirely different way of dealing with matters of concern within the church, allowing honest dialogue without preemptively defining the outcomes,” the Association of US Catholic Priests called Müller’s actions an “abuse of process and persons” that is not in keeping with the pope’s pastoral approach.
The action of the priests’ group is significant because priests have been largely on the sidelines in the ongoing conflict between U.S. women religious and the Vatican over the role of women religious both in the church and in public life.
Nuns like Sister Carol Keehan and Sister Simone Campbell have waded into thorny public debates over the Affordable Care Act and poverty and U.S. tax policy, and came under considerable criticism for what was perceived to be their role in allowing the ACA to go through without the U.S. bishops’ preferred anti-abortion language. Much of the Vatican’s criticism of the LCWR centered on its public social justice advocacy, which the Vatican said it undertook to the neglect of fighting abortion and same-sex marriage.
The letter from AUSCP, which was formed in 2011 to implement Vatican II reforms like a greater role for the laity in the selection of bishops and the running of the church, marks the first time in recent memory that a group of priests has advocated for women religious or criticized Vatican action.