60 Minutes: American Nuns & Leadership Conference of Women Religious


60 Minutes: American Nuns

Bob Simon reported on an issue facing the new Pope Francis: the church’s relationship with its own American nuns. The Vatican has been in a power struggle with American nuns, having been accused of “a new inquisition.” The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) ran afoul of the Vatican, as one of many groups who hopes for reform in the church. Nuns and many other around the world know that Pope Francis has a background of charity, but will that extend to his leadership of the church?

60 Minutes: LCWR Sister Pat Farrell

The leader of LCWR, Sister Pat Farrell, talked to 60 Minutes about finding her organization under scrutiny. LCWR represents 80% of America’s nuns. She admitted that her higher profile is “very strange.”


Farrell found herself in the limelight recently when the Vatican accused the LCWR of insubordination and “undermining the church” by clashing with leadership and failing to promote the church’s conservative positions.

60 Minutes: Radical Feminist Nuns?

She said that LCWR attempts to bridge all sides of complex issues, offering hope and caring for the sick. Farrell and other nuns work as teachers, counselors, and in other positions that offer care and service to those in need.

60 Minutes: American Nuns & Leadership Conference of Women Religious

60 Minutes reported a clash between the Vatican and American Nuns in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, whom the church considers insubordinate.


The Vatican is concerned about the organization’s conferences, where members speak about “radical feminist themes,” according to the Vatican. Sister Elizabeth Johnson called the church out in her remarks as patriarchal and detrimental to women.

60 Minutes: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Pat Farrell traveled to Rome for the results of the investigation. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a group that has its roots in the Inquisition, was the same one that handled the investigation into LCWR.

She said that she felt the church responded out of fear. “What would happen if women really were given a place of equality in the church?” she wondered. In the past, her group has supported the ordination of women into the priesthood.

60 Minutes: Vow Of Obedience

How does this activism clash with her “vow of obedience”? Farrell said she feels that a nun’s obedience should be to God, which comes in many ways and forms.

The Vatican considered the state of American nuns “a crisis,” and a an archbishop was tasked with bringing the group in line with the church’s wishes. Peter Sartain, that archbishop, said that the LCWR should not be running afoul of the church’s teachings.

60 Minutes: American Nuns Crisis

Sartain backed up calling the situation a crisis, saying that it could continue to spiral into a larger problem. What about the church’s other problems, such as the priest abuse scandals that have been associated with the church frequently over the last decade?

The archbishop said the church is constantly juggling multiple issues at a time at any point in history. He said he has been granted veto power over the nun’s group’s programming, publications, and speakers.

60 Minutes: Sister Judy Park

He brushed off the classification of “censorship” as acting out of the will of God. Simon countered by saying the women are not feeling that love coming from church leadership.

Sister Judy Park is a nun who works in a Brooklyn soup kitchen, where she derives her strength from service. She said she does not feel it is her role to judge others, which is something that also apparently does not sit well with the church.

60 Minutes: Sister Simone DNC

Catholics and others throughout the US are supporting the nuns. This has created a “populist movement,” according to Simon, who said that a group of them are traveling the country in Nuns on the Bus, a movement by the nuns’ group Network, which was called out by name in that Vatican investigation.

Sister Simone was featured at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, in part because she campaigned in support of President Obama’s healthcare law, opposed by the church for fear that it may cover abortions.

60 Minutes: Catholic Church Gender Clash

Simone said that her group is an advocate for universal healthcare. She said she is a lawyer and she saw the logic in the idea, which she said did not cover abortion. Her letter of support was backed by dozens of other nuns.

Is this symptomatic of a clash between genders in the church? “It’s way more politics and culture than it is faith,” Simone said.

60 Minutes: Catholic Church Political Positions

Archbishop Peter Sartain denied that they intervened with the nuns about political issues, but that the church is concerned about abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. He said the Vatican criticized the nuns for not taking up the church’s positions.

Farrell said that their actions and commitments reflect their values and those are borne out in the lives that nuns live. As to whether the church’s stance on social issues is driving parishioners out of the church, she said that Catholics don’t have a safe place to consider these types of issues.

60 Minutes: Pope Francis Vs American Nuns

She is hoping that Pope Francis will help to address that divide and step up for more openness within the church. But how will he handle the church’s strained relationship with American nuns?

Sartain has begun a dialogue, and was told to accomplish his goals within five years. This is a power struggle that will likely not die out anytime soon.

Could Farrell accomplish her goals of service and charity outside the church? “I have no interest in being separate from the church. It’s who I am,” she said.


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