Leaders from the organization that represents the majority of U.S. nuns met with senior Vatican officials Tuesday to discuss what the hierarchy considered deficiencies in the doctrinal assessment issued by the Holy See in April.

Among the assessment's criticisms of the Maryland-based Leadership Conference of Women Religious were alleged deviations from Catholic doctrine, including latent support for gay marriage, radical feminism and abortion.

At the LCWR's request, its president Sister Pat Farrell and executive director Sister Janet Mock traveled to the Vatican to meet with Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees implementation of church doctrine worldwide, and Archbishop of Seattle Peter Sartain.

It was an open meeting and we were able to directly express our concerns to Cardinal Levada and Archbishop Sartain, Farrell said in a statement.

The LCWR leaders will discuss the specifics of the meeting with their board later this week and will lay out an official response to the CDF's assessment at their annual assembly in August.

'Serious Doctrinal Problems'

The CDF acknowledged that its particular concerns involved the LCWR's leadership and not the majority of its members.

[N]evertheless the Assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life, the CDF said in the assessment.

Without referencing gay marriage outright, the assessment reproached the LCWR, saying that it was not taking a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, adding that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church's teaching on human sexuality.

It also criticized the organization for protesting the Holy See's actions regarding the question of women's ordination -- in other words, supporting the ordination of women to the priesthood -- as well as for a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR.

The Holy See also admonished the LCWR for remaining 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.

The Vatican summed up its overall disapproval of the organization's leadership, saying 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.

'A Process of Review and Conformity'

As is customary with the issuing of a doctrinal assessment, the CDF has appointed an archbishop assisted by two bishops to implement a process of review and conformity to the teachings and discipline of the Church ... of the work of the LCWR.

Sartain was appointed as the CDF's delegate and will be assisted by Bishop Leonard Blair and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki. The Seatte prelate will essentially take over direction of the LCWR though he will be expected to work with the leadership of the LCWR to achieve the goals necessary to address the problems outlined in the doctrinal assessment.

Among Sartain's duties will be to revise the LCWR's statutes, oversee its activities and programs to ensure that the scope of the LCWR's mission is fulfilled in accord with Church teachings and discipline and introduce new programs to align the organization with church doctrine.

It has not yet been announced when Sartain will officially begin the reform process, but his mandate may last up to five years.

Organizations that have come under review by the CDF and are found not to comply with the delegate's reform process have lost official church approval, severing their ties with the Vatican.

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