Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo discussed the ideas behind the Vatican's assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious on the National Public Radio show Fresh Air on Wednesday.
The leadership conference, which boasts 80 percent of the 57,000 nuns in the United States as members, has come under Vatican scrutiny for challenging core Catholic tradition. The Holy See ordered a doctoral assessment of the organization about two years ago; the findings were released in April.
The report described the group's "doctrinal and pastoral situation" as "grave and of serious concern."
Bishop Blair assisted in conducting the assessment, and says he is helping promote discussions to bring the group back in communion with the Church's teachings.
"They are promoting unilaterally new and a new kind of theology that is not in accordance with the faith of the Church," the bishop said.
Last week, Fresh Air host Terry Gross interviewed Sister Pat Farrell, the leadership conference's president, on the assessment's findings. In the interview, Sister Pat said the Vatican is not asking for a dialogue, but is demanding conformity.
Bishop Blair agreed that the sisters' idea of dialogue on the matter may be quite different from that of the Vatican.
"If by dialogue they mean that the doctrines of the Church are negotiable, and that the bishops represent one position and the LCWR represents another position and somehow we find a middle ground … then no, I don't think that is the kind of dialogue the Holy See would envision," Bishop Blair said. "These are objective views and teachings of faith."
The leadership conference has been accused of remaining silent on core Catholic doctrines, such as the right to life from conception.
"The Church has been so strong in defending that right to life that it seems one would expect the Leadership Conference of Women Religious to stand up and be counted in upholding this right and working to its defense," Bishop Blair said.
During last week's interview, Sister Pat defended her group's effort to promote life, citing its work against the death penalty, war, and hunger.
However, she stated the organization does emphasize pro-life work, rather than pro-fetus work.
"Any policy that is more pro-fetus than actually pro-life, if the rights of the unborn trump all the rights of those that were already born, that is a distortion," Sister Pat said.
While Bishop Blair agreed with the group's assertion that human life needs to be defended in all capacities, he said the Catholic Church places an equal emphasis on the life of an unborn fetus.
"All other human rights are false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right, is not defended with maximum exertion," Bishop Blair said, quoting the late Pope John Paul II.
The leadership conference has been further condemned by the Vatican for remaining silent on Church teachings related to human sexuality.
Bishop Blair said the organization has not spoken up against same-sex marriage, as other Catholic groups have. "What we would imagine happening for an organization of Catholic religious women is they would be front and center in speaking on behalf of this fundamental teaching, and yet we don't find that," he said. "Yes, there are a lot of people who don't agree with the Catholic Church … but we would expect that a group of religious sisters who are Catholic nuns would respect the teachings."
Ms. Gross, the radio host, said the organization seems to be a modern version of the Catholic Church, casting doubt on contested issues, such as the role of women in the church and the morality of contraception. Sister Pat defined obedience in the Church as listening to what God is calling for the "current times."
However, Bishop Blair said the basic doctrines of the Church cannot be debated or changed, regardless of the surrounding culture. "Their understanding can be evolved and there can be aspects of it that evolve and change, but not the fundamental things," he said. "It has to be added on the basis of the faith."
Contact Mel Flanagan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6087.