Friars Come To Nuns' Defense In Vatican Investigation

The Franciscan friars of the U.S. have expressed support for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The organization which represents most of the country's nuns is the subject of a Vatican investigation. Audie Cornish speaks with Father Joe Nangle, of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington, Va., about his order's decision to support the Sisters.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

"For us, there can be no dispute that God has been, and continues to be, revealed through the faithful and often unsung witness of religious women in the United States." So reads a recent letter written by the Franciscan Friars of the U.S., expressing support for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The LCWR represents most of the country's nuns, and it's now the subject of a Vatican investigation for encouraging - in the Vatican's words - radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.

News of the investigation has roiled America's Catholic community, and the friars are thought to be the first Catholic order to publicly back the nuns over the Vatican. For more, we're joined by Father Joe Nangle, of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington, Virginia. And Father Nangle, to begin, talk about the decision to oppose this investigation.

THE REV. JOE NANGLE: Well, there's a couple of things. But the main point is the way it has been done ; the process - or the lack of process, actually. It seems as though the sisters were taken by great surprise when they visited Rome. They received this - not ultimatum, but kind of a fait accompli, and were told that this investigation would be going forward. That process is not, I think, according to the way, really, the Catholic Church has decided to move in these times. More dialogue, is what we're looking for.

CORNISH: In your letter, you describe the tone and direction of the investigation as excessive, and I want to be clear. Are the friars arguing that the investigation is appropriate, but that the Vatican is going about it in the wrong way? Or do you believe that the idea of the investigation itself is extreme?

NANGLE: The word investigation is the problem, perhaps. We feel as though there can be disputes; there can be differences of opinion within the life of the church. There always have been. So to call it an investigation is probably a misnomer. What we would rather see is a dialogue between the Vatican - in this case, the bishops - and the religious women of the United States. That would be totally acceptable. But not an investigation, not kind of a top-down ultimatum.

CORNISH: The LCWR represents some 57,000 nuns - I mean, it's the vast majority of nuns in the U.S. And in launching this investigation, do you worry that the Vatican could do harm to the church's image here, particularly among women?

NANGLE: Well, yes, there's no doubt about it. The reaction from all sectors of the Catholic Church in the states has been pretty clear - it seems to me - that, again, it's the process. We feel as though our sisters have been put upon, to some extent, by the Vatican in the way it was done. And we feel as though that that manner of doing things should be changed.

CORNISH: In the letter, the friars talk about the times we live in; and the nuns trying to navigate the times that we live in, and reconcile that with their moral and religious understandings and teachings. And it seems, also, that this is a kind of a moment, as well, for the church itself in discussing how it does take on the times.

NANGLE: Exactly, exactly. You know, there was a great theologian in the 20th century who said that we live in wintery times in terms of faith, people of faith. And that's true. We don't have all of the wonderful traditions of, you know, novenas and prayers and so forth, that we used to have. What we have now is a call, really, to try to make explicit the Catholic tradition that makes sense to people of this time. It's a pastoral task. It's a catechetical task, really.

CORNISH: What are friars prepared to do if the Vatican doesn't listen? What's the next step?

NANGLE: I don't know. I think we'll just have to wait and see. I don't think there will be reprisals. We're speaking our truth. I hope that the process - as we all hope - will go forward. The sisters have been very, very measured in their response, as you know. We're hoping that their attitude will convince the Vatican that they, and we, are loyal members of this church, but we're not unthinking. We have our truth to speak.

CORNISH: Father Joe Nangle, thank you for speaking with us.

NANGLE: Well, you're welcome. It's great to be with you. Thanks.

CORNISH: Father Joe Nangle, of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington, Virginia.

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