Benedict XVI: Inexcusable, lamentable silencing of the US Leadership Conference of Women Religious Print E-mail

 US ~ April 23 2012

LCWR: A radical obedience to the voice of God in our time

Read also "Benedict XVI returns to Rottweiler mode putting US's Leadership Conference of Women Religious  on 5 years of probation"

by Jamie L Manson

In his Holy Thursday sermon, Pope Benedict XVI made headlines for criticizing those who refuse to obey the church's position on the ordination of celibate men. He traced his argument back to Christ's obedience to the will of God.

"His concern was for true obedience," Benedict said, "as opposed to human caprice."

Of course, the pontiff fails to point out that Jesus was obeying God while also radically disobeying the religious leaders and laws of his time. Like so many archconservative Roman Catholics, he is confusing God with the institutional church and its doctrine.

I suppose the pope is using some of this same logic in his treatment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. He views the sisters' unwillingness to condemn gays and lesbians or contraception or women who feel called ordained ministry as an act of "caprice."

But the basis on which the sisters focus their ministries is anything but shallow and whimsical. Their devotion is founded on a radical obedience to the voice of God as it emerges from the voices of the poor, the sick, the abandoned and the broken.

Most sisters spend their lives immersed in the deepest sufferings of our world. They don't just stop by the soup kitchen on Ash Wednesday for a photo op. Some actually live in shelters with homeless women, orphans or the addicted.

Their unwillingness to condemn gays and lesbians probably stems from the work they did with AIDS patients in the early 1980s. Back then, the disease affected mostly gay men, and no one was sure how it was contracted. Women religious were among one of the few groups who were unafraid to touch those dying from this unknown, frightening disease.

Is there any doubt that, as the sisters bathed and fed these deteriorating bodies, they also noticed the deep and authentic love that these men shared with partners and friends? The sisters also saw anguish suffered by men whose parents would not visit them and the sacramental power of those who reconciled with family before they died.

Any disagreements on contraception likely stem from the sisters' work with poor, homeless and battered women. They harbor girls enslaved in the sex trade, women trapped in abusive relationships and mothers abandoned to poverty.

Many sisters still run hospitals and are medical professionals. They have seen firsthand the price that so many women pay for husbands and boyfriends who refuse to wear condoms yet still demand sex. Every day, they see patients who have been date raped or women who bear life-threatening pregnancies.

Many sisters are theologians, ethicists, spiritual directors and teachers. They engage students and directees in their metaphysical and existential questions. They spend hours listening to stories and struggles and aid in discerning ethical dilemmas and spiritual crises. And though technically they cannot confer absolution, they have heard countless confessions.

Some women religious do support the ordination of women. They have dedicated their entire lives to being a sacrament in the world, yet they have been told that their bodies are not worthy of consecrating the Eucharist or giving last rites to an ailing patient whom they have shepherded through sickness unto death.

With such an intensely sacramental life, it should be no wonder that sisters have deep intellectual curiosity and spiritual longings. With hearts so regularly broken open, why wouldn't they ask deeper questions of this mysterious world that brims with the power of a wounded God? With all that they've witnessed, how could they not entertain the possibility that holiness can be present in same-sex love or in the body of a woman priest?

Their ideas, interests and programs are not the product of an obstinate disobedience of power. Rather, their commitments come from a deep obedience to the God who appears in the faces of the powerless and the vulnerable. They see the crucified Christ in places most clergy and laypeople dare not go. They are not wayward, but wise enough not to place limits on how and where God works God's grace.

The sisters' experiences tell them that hiding behind the false fortress of religious laws simply does not do justice to a God who reaches out to us in ways that far exceed even the most active Catholic imagination. The sisters have learned well Jesus' criticism of the Pharisees who "disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition." They are obeying their calling to be, what Sandra Schneiders recently called, a "prophetic life form."

But the Vatican is telling these women, as it has told many groundbreaking theologians, ministers and saints before, that a prophet is not welcome in her own native place. They are commanding the sisters to shut down their minds and hearts even at the price of shutting out the very voice of God.

Sure, the Vatican is thanking the sisters for their hard work and devotion on behalf of the church. But they are also telling them that they have become too empowered and that they must now be carefully watched and tightly controlled. They must halt the practice of asking theological questions, they must stop reading the signs of the times and they must cease exploring the ways in which God's presence is unfolding in our present reality. Essentially, the hierarchy is reducing them to the equivalent of spiritual enslavement.

This latest development in the U.S. church poses a challenge not only for sisters, but for all Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition is much richer and deeper than absolute subservience to manmade doctrines on issues related to the pelvic zone.

It is a moment that demands we read the writing on the wall: There is no safe place within the institutional church for intellectually based, pastorally grounded interpretation of or questioning of doctrine. There is no space in this institution for prophets to dwell.

With each new crackdown on a priest, nun or layperson of integrity, the institutional church seems to be begging a schism. Their goal is either to coerce or force out anyone who won't toe the line on marriage equality, contraception and women's ordination. Without absolute conformity on these issues, the bishops cannot make their far more profitable alliances with right-wing religious and political groups.

As NCR reported last week, if the sisters do not comply, they will likely "face ouster as a Vatican-recognized representative of sisters in the United States." If the LCWR isn't the representative of sisters in the United States, wouldn't that position necessarily fall on the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), a highly orthodox group representing less than 20 percent of sisters in United States? This would surely help the Vatican in fulfilling its vision of a leaner, meaner Roman Catholic Church.

This attack on the sisters is an attack on everyone who believes in their ministries and who has benefited from their ministries. There has never been a more crucial moment for us to stand in solidarity. It is time particularly for men religious in this country to take a courageous stand. They, too, must use their privilege to speak out and risk their own well-being for the good of their sisters.

The very life of the prophetic life form is in peril. If the sisters are ejected from the church, we must create church around them. If they are evicted from their properties, those with the means must take them in. The sisters, who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that no one is abandoned, cannot be abandoned.

Because to abandon them would be to abandon one of the last vestiges of the spirit of God at work in the church.

[Jamie L. Manson received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her columns for NCR earned her a first prize Catholic Press Association award for Best Column/Regular Commentary in 2010.]
 US ~ April 23 2012

Who will watch the watchmen of America's women religious?

by Eugene Cullen Kennedy

The sound you hear all across Catholic America today is that of Rachel's weeping again over the unnecessary and undeserved suffering that has been heaped by a righteous-sounding Cardinal William Levada, the pope's man at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the women religious of this country.

This event is one of epic sadness because it symbolizes how an organized church undercuts the immense good it does at its best by doing near to its hypocritical worst in an attack as coordinated as a terrorist strike on the heroic women who deserve credit for building the church in America into the most successful realization of Catholicism in history.

Only ambitious men "making," in the apt Italian phrase, "a career in the church" could have designed this bad-faith betrayal of the leaders of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious who had arrived in Rome for a dialogue with Cardinal Levada only to learn that the news of the empowering of a panel of bishops to supervise them had already been sent to the American bishops for public distribution.

The bishops, never strong on self-observation, apparently miss the irony of their feeling that the pillars of orthodoxy had been shaken because themes of feminism had been discussed by some of the speakers at the annual gatherings of the leadership group. Feminism in general raised its voice in response to the centuries of women being subjugated by men who were generally bigger, stronger but not necessarily smarter than women. Feminism in particular began to whisper inside the Catholic church as a delayed reaction to exactly the same conditions.

As a now-dead colleague of mine, Fr. Charles A. Curran -- the psychologist, not the distinguished moral theologian -- once observed, "Many men in the Church are only comfortable with their mothers or with the Blessed Mother, especially if she is an unmoving statue with glass eyes and a marble body."

Only that inability to enter into a serious, face-to-face relationship with adult women, such as the leaders of American women religious, can explain how the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could go through a charade of treating these women seriously when a jaundiced judgment on their lives and work had already been dispatched to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Irony is cubed by the announcement that Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has been fully empowered for a period of five years at least to oversee the LCWR by, among other things, revising their statutes, reviewing their plans and programs and creating new programs for them. He and his panel of Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., and Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, can also review and offer guidance on liturgical texts and review their other organizations and institutes. Rome is treating what, at the worst, falls short of being even venial sins as if they were unforgivable offenses against the Spirit for which a penance equivalent to capital punishment is prescribed.

The irony is blinding when we ask who is watching these watchmen, for merely a cursory review of their careers suggests that their lapses and lacks in dealing with God's people suggest they are the ones who should be investigated, perhaps by a panel from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Archbishop Sartain, who has just politicized his parishes by delegating them to gather signatures against legislation on same-sex marriage, according to the website Christian Child Abuse, played a still-unclarified role while bishop of Joliet, Ill., in ordaining as a priest a seminarian on whose computer gay porn with young boys had been found a few months before. This priest was convicted the next year of sexual assault of an underage boy. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, observed: "Sartain, in our view, had a moral obligation to postpone the ordination, send [the priest] for treatment and inform the public." SNAP president Dave Clohessy later said Sartain "did none of that."

Bishop Leonard Blair is the second person of this apparently unvetted trinity of American bishops who are going to run women's religious life as closely as Dickensian orphanage directors for the next five years. It turns out that SNAP has asked the bishop of Toledo for an explanation as yet apparently unforthcoming about his relationship with a priest in his diocese who was not only accused of child abuse but convicted of murder as well. The Blade in Toledo has reported that Bishop Blair had an "agreement" with this priest. SNAP wanted to know what, if anything, he had been paying this priest and what was the content of this supposed letter of agreement between them.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki, the third member of the team, was not added for ballast. His office, according to the Springfield newspapers, is dedicated to hockey and is filled with symbols, ornaments, pictures of the Chicago Blackhawks (he's a big fan) and, of course, his own specially designed hockey helmet. Bishop Paprocki, whom I once came upon as he switched dining assignment cards so that Cardinal Francis George would not have to sit next to the Cook County board president, a Catholic who was pro-choice, is also intent on reviving exorcism. And he is going to judge the maturity of American nuns. You can't make this stuff up.

Nor could you make up the somewhat uncertain record of Cardinal William Levada, who presides over the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which, when it isn't investigating nuns needlessly, is investigating sex abusing priests heedlessly, in the judgment of many. In any case, Levada, according to The New York Times, "has a mixed record on sexual abuse." The newspaper reported that in Portland, Levada "did not aggressively pursue a complaint against the Rev. Aldo Orso-Manzonetta," whose many accusations of sexual misconduct with boys were settled after Levada had left "for an undisclosed amount."

Levada's record in San Francisco is controversial because, though many people think he did a good job dealing with priests accused of sex abuse, others contend that at times he did not adequately impose restrictions on priests involved in sex abuse and, on one case, suspended a former U.S. attorney, John F. Conley, with whose reporting a suspected priest sex abuser he disagreed.

Granting that, in all these cases, complications may exist that have not yet been disclosed, the group of watchers, from the chief watcher Cardinal Levada down to the Hockey Fan Watcher, Bishop Paprocki, needs to be watched carefully, if only because they supply the low comedy in the high tragedy of injustice that is being played out before us in this suddenly sad springtime.

[Eugene Cullen Kennedy is emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University, Chicago.]
 Thursday April 19, 2012

Pope Says American Nuns Too Focused On Poor, Not Enough On Gay Bashing

by Jessica Pieklo

The Vatican has turned its fury toward the nation’s largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns accusing them of promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” for questioning the church’s stance on homosexuality and male-only priesthood.

The group was also punished for focusing too much on poverty and economic justice while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage.

The New York Times reports that the Vatican has appointed an American bishop to “rein in” the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements disagreeing with the bishops over their attacks on health care reform.

The conference is an umbrella organization of women’s religious communities with approximately 1500 members who represent 80 percent of the Catholic sisters in the United States. It was formed in 1956 at the Vatican’s request and answers directly to the Vatican.

News of the reprimand took the sisters by surprised. Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby stood strong and insisted the nuns were doing nothing wrong. “I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.”

Because the nuns had the audacity to challenge Pope Benedict XVI and the bishops they will now be required to pre-clear any speakers or information supplied to the public. It’s part of an ongoing inquisition launched by the Pope into the activities of American nuns and religious communities making it crystal clear that the leadership of the Catholic church believes its faith has no place for women of independent minds.
 Melbourne ~ Thursday April 19 2012

Vatican busts nuns for not targeting gay marriage and abortion

Staff reporters and AP

The Vatican is clamping down on a group of US nuns who are focusing on poverty instead of fighting gay marriage. (Getty Supplied)

A GROUP of Catholic nuns has been reprimanded by the Vatican for focusing too much on poverty and not enough on fighting gay marriage and abortion.

A male bishop has been appointed to bring to heel the US' most influential group of Catholic Nuns, The Leadership Conference of Women religious, after the Vatican announced it would be completely overhauling the group, reported The New York Times .

The Vatican has been secretly investigating the group since 2008 because of its support for health care reform and after it questioned the Church's position on homosexuality.

An assessment report released yesterday found the group had "radical feminist themes" incompatible with the Catholic Church.

The report also zeroed in on a social justice sub-group started by the sisters called NETWORK, finding that it and the Leadership group focused too much on poverty and economic injustice while keeping silent on abortion and same sex marriage.

The sisters were reprimanded for making public statements that "disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals," reported The New York Times.

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, said she believed the Vatican and American Bishops were particularly annoyed when the nuns made statements supportive of the Obama Administration’s 2010 health care reforms.

“I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,” Sister Campbell said. “We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.”

The report released yesterday paints a scathing portrait of the Leadership Conference of Women's Religious as consistently violating Catholic teaching.

Nick Cafardi, a canon lawyer and former dean of Duqesne Law School, said he has worked over the years with many nuns and that the description in the report does not reflect his experience with them.

"I don't know any more holy people," Cafardi said of American religious sisters. "I see a lot more holiness in the convents than I see in the chancery."

 US ~ August. 11, 2010

Wanted: women of spirit in our own time

By Joan Chittister

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is meeting in Dallas this week under scrutiny from Rome and with a cloud hanging over its head.

What shall we think about such a time as this when the women religious who have built, carried, led and staffed every work of the church from the earliest days of this nation to this present time of turbulence and transition are being accused of being unorthodox, unfaithful, and unfit to make adult decisions about what they need to hear and who they want to have say it?

The problem is that in the face of opposition they have also been unafraid.

What shall we think about that? Think David, maybe, who confronted the giant Goliath; think Moses, perhaps, who faced the Red Sea with an Egyptian army at his back; think Judith and her handmaiden, certainly, who routed Holofernes and saved the city; think Shifra and Puah, without doubt, who refused the order to murder Jewish newborns and so saved the nation. Think Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Magdala who stood as independent women alone and unblinking. Think moment of decision.

Then think of the foundresses of every religious order you have ever known who came to the United States without money, without professional resources, often without the language, and commonly without support ­ even from the church ­ to deal head on with the social justice questions of their time and so saved the church in the process.

"Women & Spirit," the traveling museum exhibit mounted by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious that reviews the story of women's religious communities in the United States, bears witness to the role of religious life in church and society. It is the visual history of women who made astounding choices at all the crossroads in national history and made them when women were allowed to make few, if any, choices at all.

It is a story too often forgotten and too easily domesticated. "That's just what sisters were supposed to be doing," people say. Oh, please.

These were women who opened schools for girls in a world that considered the education of women a useless and uppity waste.

These were women who nursed soldiers on both battlefields of the Civil War, North and South, in an age when sisters didn't work with men at all, let alone nurse them.

These were women who worked with what was left of a Native American society that had been stripped of its dignity, robbed of its lands and denied its civil rights in a culture that defined both the American Indian and the women who served them as less than fully human.

These were women who taught blacks for centuries and then walked with them in Selma, Ala., to claim their full humanity ­ attack dogs at their heels, fire hoses in front of them -- and met disdain everywhere from Christians who used religion to justify first slavery and, after it, segregation.

These were women who gave their lives to insert Catholic children into a Protestant society as equal participants in the democratic dream all the way to a Catholic presidency.

Indeed, for hundreds of years, over and over again, women religious have found themselves at the junction between past and future. For hundreds of years they have consistently, persistently, confidently and courageously chosen for a necessary future ­ whatever difficulties the doing of it meant for them in the present. Over and over again, they chose for tomorrow rather than settle for a more convenient past.

The entire history of religious life in this nation has been a history of crisis and response, of need and resistance, of response and reaction.

It was not an easy time.

At a time when the sick died uncared for, and the uneducated died illiterate and the poor or addicted died destitute and minorities died invisible to the rest of society, women religious chose to challenge any and every system for the sake of the coming of the reign of God.

And in the end, they succeeded. But don't be fooled: They did not succeed because their numbers were large or their influence was great or their social support was either broad-based or obvious. They succeeded because they refused to allow the ideas of the past to become the cement of the future. They succeeded because of the courage of women who went where they were told not to go.

Now we are at another crossroads moment in time. This is a time, too, of deep crisis and great needs, of the rejection of those who raise new questions and a reaction against those who raise new ideas in a system trying to preserve the old ones in order to preserve itself.

It is a time, as it has always been, for leadership.

But leadership and authority are not the same thing. It can take a long time to learn the difference between the two but there is nothing in life that demonstrates the difference between the two better than a crossroad.

At the crossroads in life, authority goes one direction: back. Authority goes in the direction that's already in the book; the path that has been clearly trod before now, the way that is safe and sure, clear and certain, obedient and approved, applauded and rewarded.

Leadership, on the other hand, rewrites the book. It takes the direction that leads only to the promise of a better tomorrow for everyone however difficult it may be to achieve it now. "The seed," the Zen master teaches, "never sees the flower."

The times are clear. The needs are now. The time for new decisions is upon us. Authority is not enough for times such as these. We need leaders now.

As women religious meet in Dallas these days as a "Leadership Conference" rather than as a conference of "Major Superiors," may God raise up women among them who will lead.

It is a new period of crisis. We must determine to meet this challenge to spiritual maturity, to human adulthood now as did our foremothers before us meet theirs. We, too, must move beyond fear to the real, real faith that can, we have seen, move mountains.

It is another period in which public and even ecclesiastical approval must be second again to the needs of those who look to us for both vision and voice.

It is a period in which we must not forego reaching for what is necessary because others tell us it is not acceptable.

For the sake of religious life, for the sake of women everywhere, and, in the end, for the sake of the very integrity of the church itself, we are looking to you now to be "Women of Spirit." May we be to our age what our ancestors were to theirs. Whatever the cost to ourselves.

For that, we are depending now on you.

[Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister is a frequent NCR contributor.]

 Thursday July 2, 2009, page A1

U.S. Nuns Facing Vatican Scrutiny

Mother Mary Clare Millea (right) has been appointed by the Vatican to study the activities of some orders of nuns in the United States

The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.

Sister Sandra M. Schneiders has urged fellow nuns not to participate in the study that is being conducted by the Vatican. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

Nuns were the often-unsung workers who helped build the Roman Catholic Church in this country, planting schools and hospitals and keeping parishes humming. But for the last three decades, their numbers have been declining ­ to 60,000 today from 180,000 in 1965.

While some nuns say they are grateful that the Vatican is finally paying attention to their dwindling communities, many fear that the real motivation is to reel in American nuns who have reinterpreted their calling for the modern world.

In the last four decades since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many American nuns stopped wearing religious habits, left convents to live independently and went into new lines of work: academia and other professions, social and political advocacy and grass-roots organizations that serve the poor or promote spirituality. A few nuns have also been active in organizations that advocate changes in the church like ordaining women and married men as priests.

Some sisters surmise that the Vatican and even some American bishops are trying to shift them back into living in convents, wearing habits or at least identifiable religious garb, ordering their schedules around daily prayers and working primarily in Roman Catholic institutions, like schools and hospitals.

“They think of us as an ecclesiastical work force,” said Sister Sandra M. Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, in California. “Whereas we are religious, we’re living the life of total dedication to Christ, and out of that flows a profound concern for the good of all humanity. So our vision of our lives, and their vision of us as a work force, are just not on the same planet.

The more extensive of the two investigations is called an “Apostolic Visitation,” and the Vatican has provided only a vague rationale for it: to “look into the quality of the life” of women’s religious institutes. The visitation is being conducted by Mother Mary Clare Millea, an apple-cheeked American with a black habit and smiling eyes, who is the superior general of her order, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and lives in Rome.

In an interview in a formal sitting room at her order’s United States headquarters in Hamden, Conn., Mother Clare said she had already met one-on-one with 127 superiors general of women’s orders, many in that room but also in Chicago, Los Angeles, Rome and St. Louis. She is preparing questionnaires to send to each congregation of women and recruiting teams of investigators, mostly nuns and some priests, who will make visits to congregations that she selects. The visitation focuses only on nuns actively engaged in working in society and the church, not cloistered, contemplative nuns.

Mother Clare’s task is to prepare a confidential report to the Vatican on the state of each of about 340 qualified congregations of nuns in the United States, as well as a summary with her recommendations, all of which she hopes to complete by mid-2011.

The investigation was ordered by Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican office that deals with religious orders. In a speech in Massachusetts last year, Cardinal Rodé offered barbed criticism of some American nuns “who have opted for ways that take them outside” the church.

Given this backdrop, Sister Schneiders, the professor in Berkeley, urged her fellow sisters not to cooperate with the visitation, saying the investigators should be treated as “uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house.” She wrote this in a private e-mail message to a few friends, but it became public and was widely circulated.

Mother Clare said she was aware that some women’s institutes “weren’t happy” to hear of the visitation, but that so far about 55 percent had responded in person or in writing.

“It’s an opportunity for us to re-evaluate ourselves, to make our reality known and also to be challenged to live authentically who we say we are,” she said.

Each congregation of nuns will be evaluated based on how well they are “living in fidelity” both to their congregation’s own internal norms and constitution, and to the church’s guidelines for religious life, Mother Clare said. For instance, if a congregation’s stated mission is to serve youth, are the nuns doing that? If they do not live in a convent, are they attending Mass and keeping the sacraments? Are their superiors exercising adequate supervision?

“There’s no intention to make us all identical,” she said.

Church historians said that the Vatican usually ordered an apostolic visitation when a particular institution had gone seriously astray. In the wake of the priest sexual-abuse scandal, the Vatican ordered a visitation of American seminaries. It is now conducting a visitation of the Legionaries of Christ, a men’s order whose founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, sexually abused young seminarians, fathered a child and was accused of financial improprieties. He died in 2008.

But the investigation of American nuns surprised many because there was no obvious precipitating cause.

Sister Janice Farnham, a part-time professor of church history at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, said, “Why are the U.S. sisters being singled out, when women religious in other countries are struggling with many issues about the quality of their lives, in the Church and in their societies?”

The visitation could result in some communities of nuns’ being ordered to make changes, but judging from how the Vatican handled previous visitations, those consequences may never become public.

The second investigation of nuns is a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization that claims 1,500 members from about 95 percent of women’s religious orders. This investigation was ordered by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by an American, Cardinal William Levada.

Cardinal Levada sent a letter to the Leadership Conference saying an investigation was warranted because it appeared that the organization had done little since it was warned eight years ago that it had failed to “promote” the church’s teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.

The letter goes on to say that, “Given both the tenor and the doctrinal content of various addresses” at assemblies the Leadership Conference has held in recent years, the problem has not been fixed.

The Leadership Conference drew the Vatican’s wrath decades ago when its president welcomed Pope John Paul II to the United States with a plea for the ordination of women. But several nuns who have attended the group’s meetings in recent years said they had not heard anything that would provoke the Vatican’s ire.

Officers of the Leadership Conference refused interview requests, but said in an e-mail message that they had one meeting in late May with the investigators, Bishop Leonard P. Blair, of the Diocese of Toledo, and Msgr. Charles Brown from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican, who voiced the Vatican’s concerns. (Bishop Blair declined to comment). In the fall, they said, they will meet again to respond to the concerns.

“We are looking forward to clarifying some misperceptions,” Sister J. Lora Dambroski, president of the Leadership Conference, said in the e-mail message.

Besides these two investigations, another decree that affected some nuns was issued in March by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops said that Catholics should stop practicing Reiki, a healing therapy that is used in some Catholic hospitals and retreat centers, and which was enthusiastically adopted by many nuns. The bishops said Reiki is both unscientific and non-Christian.

Nuns practicing reiki and running church reform groups may have finally proved too much for the church’s male hierarchy, said Kenneth Briggs, the author of “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns,” (Doubleday Religion, 2006).

Mr. Briggs said of the various investigations: “For some in the leadership circles in Rome and elsewhere, it’s a piece of unfinished business. It’s an effort to bring about a re-establishment of a very traditional, very conservative set of standards for what convent life is supposed to be.”