News Religion

Pope Francis Supports Nun Crackdown, Quashing Hope for a Kinder, Gentler Pope

Erin Matson

This week the Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis supports an ongoing crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a group that represents about 80 percent of nuns in the United States.

This week the Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis supports an ongoing crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), a group that represents about 80 percent of nuns in the United States.

A year ago, under the leadership of Pope Benedict, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith issued a report accusing the nuns of “radical feminism” for focusing on social justice rather than spending that time condemning abortion. From the report:

The documentation reveals that, while there has been a great deal of work on the part of LCWR promoting issues of social justice in harmony with the Church’s social doctrine, it is silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States. Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church’s Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.

In response to the report, several male Vatican officials were tasked with imposing a program of reform upon the nuns. This Monday, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller met with the nuns, saying he had discussed the matter with the new pope, who agreed with the findings of the report and to continuing the reform.

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“We expected Pope Francis to dismiss the mandate against the nuns but instead he broke the hearts of Catholics everywhere,” Erin Hanna, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, told Rewire. Hanna is also spokesperson for NunJustice.org, a coalition of Catholic groups calling for an end to the nun crackdown.

Hanna referenced St. Francis, who the new pope chose as his namesake. “St. Francis worked collaboratively alongside his sisters rather than against them. We pray Pope Francis will do the same,” she said.

Last year, vigils in solidarity with the nuns took place in cities including Cincinnati, Seattle, and New York, and more than 64,000 people signed a Change.org petition asking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith to withdraw the campaign against the nuns.

News Contraception

Pope Francis Suggests Contraception May Be Acceptable for Catholics Fearing Zika Virus

Jodi Jacobson

Pope Francis during a press conference Thursday said that the use of modern birth control ("artificial contraception" in church parlance) may be permitted in exceptional circumstances.

Read more of our articles on the Zika virus here.

Pope Francis suggested Thursday that for Catholics threatened with the Zika virus, the use of contraception might be acceptable.

Asked during a press conference whether abortion or birth control could be considered a “lesser evil” in response to the Zika virus, which appears to be linked to birth defects, the Pope replied that he believes abortion is a crime and is never acceptable, but that the use of modern birth control (“artificial contraception” in church parlance) may be permitted in exceptional circumstances.

Abortion “is an evil in and of itself” the Pope claimed. “On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil,” he said, referring to prior circumstances in which the church has sanctioned the use of birth control, such as in the 1960s, when nuns were subject to rape as a weapon of war in the Belgian Congo.

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The World Health Organization has labeled the spread of Zika virus a public health emergency. Women of reproductive age are especially at risk: Based on available evidence, it appears that pregnant people infected with the virus are at heightened risk of giving birth to babies with microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). Microcephaly is an incurable neurological disorder that impairs growth of the brain and skull in utero. Symptoms range from mild to severe intellectual and physical disabilities, and there is no cure. In general, microcephaly reduces life expectancy. GBS is an immune disorder leading to nerve damage and sometimes paralysis. It is also associated with the Zika virus.

The Zika virus has now been found in at least 34 countries to date, most of them in Central and Latin America, where abortion is illegal but complications of clandestine abortion remain among the leading killers of women ages 15 to 49. The World Health Organization, which has declared Zika to be a global health emergency, recommends that a first-line strategy to combat Zika include dramatically increasing access in affected countries to antenatal, birth, and postnatal care; neurological and mental health services; and contraception and safe abortion.

News Religion

Catholic LGBTQ Group Not Allowed to Hold Events in Catholic Church

Martha Kempner

"The reality is, the official policy of the Vatican dating back to 1986 is that any group that does not adhere to official Catholic teaching on homosexuality cannot use church space," said the group's executive director.

Equally Blessed, a coalition that seeks to educate Catholics to take action on behalf of LGBTQ people and their families, was recently told that events it had planned for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia could not be held in a Catholic church.

The World Meeting of Families is a gathering of Catholic families held every three years since 1994, and sponsored by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family. This year it is being held in Philadelphia over the three days before Pope Francis arrives in that city, and will spill over into the Festival of Families and the papal visit.

Events during the meeting include daily mass, devotions, keynote addresses, and breakout sessions. There are also special exhibits and coordinated events around the city.

The events that Equally Blessed is holding during the meeting—including a workshop for parents, a reflection session for LGBTQ families, and a workshop on gender issues—were never part of the World Meeting’s official agenda, but the group had secured space at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church. In late August, however, the archdiocese stepped in and told church officials that it did not want the group using church space.

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Though she was disappointed, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, which is a part of the Equally Blessed coalition, she was not surprised.

“The reality is, the official policy of the Vatican dating back to 1986 is that any group that does not adhere to official Catholic teaching on homosexuality cannot use church space,” she told Rewire.

In fact, Equally Blessed has been refused space many times before. In a statement, the coalition noted that “this is yet another instance of the kind of exclusion LGBT Catholics and supporters have endured for decades. Bishops have refused to allow us to meet in our own Churches, retreat centers and colleges.”

The group is being allowed to meet in a nearby Methodist church. Duddy-Burke said that the fact that other churches step in “points to the disempowerment of everyday Catholics. Catholics are overwhelmingly affirming and welcoming of LGBT people. They don’t like to see us not welcomed. But they don’t believe they have the power to change that. So for the last 30 years, other churches, Methodist, Episcopalian, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, and Unitarian, have been offering us hospitality where our own church has not.”

Though the Catholic Church’s official position on homosexuality has not changed, Pope Francis has made some comments that seemed to suggest he would like the church to be more welcoming.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person,” Pope Francis said in a 2013 interview. He suggested that the U.S. Catholic church is “obsessed” with issues like homosexuality, abortion, and contraception.

It’s unclear if that message has carried through to other leaders in the church. The World Meeting of Families, for example, includes only one session on LGBTQ issues. The session will feature a speaker who identifies as a gay Catholic committed to celibacy. His mother will also speak as part of the session.

Duddy-Burke says his is not a representative voice.

“Our problem with this session is that the call to celibacy, the gift of celibacy, is an appropriate and healthy lifestyle for a very small minority of people,” she said. “Without addressing the possibility of living a faithful, spiritual life in a healthy and loving relationship, the church is ignoring the reality of the vast majority of gay Catholics around the world.”

A schedule of “LGBTQI-themed events” is available on the coalition’s website.