The Vatican has issued a scathing condemnation of the main association of Catholic nuns in the United States for taking liberal stances on contraception, homosexuality and female priests.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) said in a statement on Thursday it was "stunned" by the Vatican report which pointed to "serious doctrinal problems" and "unacceptable positions" on a range of issues.
It accused members of LCWR, which represents around 45,000 US nuns, or 80 percent of the total, of "corporate dissent" with the Church's teachings against homosexuality and said it was pursuing "radical feminist themes".
The Roman Catholic Church's main enforcer, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said it had therefore decided to appoint the Archbishop of Seattle, Peter Sartain, to oversee the association and ensure it toes the line.
Sartain will provide "review, guidance and approval, where necessary of the work of the LCWR" and reform its statutes in agreement with the Vatican.
His task will be "to ensure that the scope of the LCWR's mission is fulfilled in accordance with Church teachings and discipline", it said.
Sartain has been in the headlines in recent months for his campaign in support of the US state of Washington's referendum against same-sex marriage.
LCWR said it was "taken by surprise" as its leadership was in Rome for a regular annual meeting and had received no forewarning about the report.
"This is a moment of great import for religious life and the wider Church. We ask your prayers as we meet with the LCWR National Board within the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response," the association said.
"It's painfully obvious that the leadership of the Church is not used to having educated women form thoughtful opinions and engage in dialogue.
"We haven't violated any teaching," she said.
The Vatican report in particular condemned LCWR for being "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".
LCWR has come under criticism from the Catholic hierarchy for endorsing US President Barack Obama's healthcare reform, including its provisions on abortion and contraception, in the run-up to the US election in November.
The Vatican said: "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.
"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," it added.
The report also said that the LCWR, which was founded in 1956, had taken a position in 1977 against the ordination of priests as a male prerogative and that subsequent speeches on the issue were "a matter of serious concern".
"This public refusal has never been corrected," the Vatican said.
The report, which follows a three-year investigation, also recognised however the value of LCWR's activities in the United States "particularly in the many schools, hospitals and institutions of support for the poor".
Pope Benedict XVI, who headed up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for more than two decades becoming pope, has recently spoken out against the "disobedience" of Austrian priests calling for major Church reforms.
At the same time he has made overtures to ultra-conservative religious movements such as the Society of Saint Pius X, which this week said it was on its way to re-integrating with the Vatican after breaking away in the 1980s.
Source: AFP American Edition