Did the pope soften his stance on nuns?

Here’s an interesting story from Reuters. Written by Philip Pullella, it’s headlined “After stinging report, Pope softens tone for U.S. nuns.” And the lede reinforces that claim:

Pope Benedict on Friday held out an olive branch to American Roman Catholic nuns, who are reeling from a stinging Vatican report that criticized them as being feminist and politicized.

But when it comes to substantiating this “softening” claim, I’m not entirely sure how well it’s handled. It sounds almost like he’s reading from the report in question — the one that praised the Leadership Conference of Women Religious prior to criticizing them for their silence and theological drift in certain areas:

“I wish to reaffirm my deep gratitude for the example of fidelity and self-sacrifice given by many consecrated women (nuns) in your country,” he said in an address to visiting U.S. bishops.

In a reference to the malaise felt by many American nuns after the report issued last month, he said he hoped that “this moment of discernment will bear abundant spiritual fruit for the revitalization and strengthening of their communities in fidelity to Christ and the Church …”

Reuters describes that report as “blistering” and reports that it shocked “most American nuns.” The critical portions of the report are highlighted before we’re told:

In his address to visiting U.S. bishops, the pope did not mention the scolding report and used much softer language in describing his view of religious life.

“The urgent need in our own time for credible and attractive witnesses to the redemptive and transformative power of the Gospel makes it essential to recapture a sense of the sublime dignity and beauty of the consecrated life …” Benedict said.

Last month’s report prompted much criticism of the Vatican attempt to rein in the nuns, who were seen by many as helping the image of the Catholic Church in the United States at a time when it was engulfed the scandal over sexual abuse of minors by priests and accusations and bishops covered it up.

Now, I read the quotes as Benedict simply reiterating the claims of the report. He’s pretty clear when he speaks, and it seems pretty clear to me. I’m open to the argument that he was backtracking or repudiating the report by softening his language, but I don’t see the evidence in this Reuters report. What do you think?

Oh, and for the evidence of what the author means when he says that the nuns were “seen by many” as “helping the image of the Catholic Church” for all those reasons in the last paragraph excerpted above, the reporter tells us that the New York Times criticized the report. Heh.

Anyway, what do you think? Is Benedict undermining or reducing the strength of the report as Reuters claims? Or was Benedict reiterating its claims?

Image of Benedict via marcokenya / Shutterstock.com

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  • Susan

    The real issue is that the mainstream media does not seem to care to understand this controversy. There are two different groups of Women Religious. One … have pretty much left the teachings of the Catholic Church long ago. The other group … Women Religious that have not. The media usually does not write about the basic premise of the Vatican “report” implying that the report applies to all or most nuns … until you read much further into the article.

    I happen to live in a town that “houses” one of the groups listed in the report. The media writes that the nuns are teachers and nurses/doctors and have provided all sorts of wonderful services. A little research by any journalist (capable of and interested in applying basic investigative skills) of the groups listed in the report will show that all have dumped these and other duties long ago and many (if not all) are living on the assets built up by Women Religious who actually did that work.

    The issue is far from difficult to understand (no matter what opinion one has of the results of the report itself). There is no defence for an argument that reporters could not easily understand the purpose of the report. It is one more example of why mainstream journalism is more and more seen as merely promoters of particular points of view rather than reasonably unbiased reporters.

    Benedict XVI was not “walking back anything”; he was simply honoring those nuns who have continued to honor their vows .. and there are a lot of those Women Religious.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    So it is VERY important that the pope read sections of the report that the MSM previously ignored?

  • http://ecben.wordpress.com Will

    Reuters describes that report as “blistering” and reports that it shocked “most American nuns.”

    .. as well as shocking the conscience of every Christian community

  • http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    I see it as the pope simply stating the goal of that blistering, stinging, scolding report. How many synonyms for “punishing” does the reporter have to dig up before he realizes his own point? Such action is ordered to correction, a change of behavior. All the pope was doing was stating the goal to be attained, the objective of what women religious should be thinking and doing in light of the report. If a judge talks to a convict about what decent citizens are expected to do out in the world, is she back-tracking on the harsh sentence just pronounced? Would that be newsworthy? Why do the media go cuckoo when the Catholic Church is involved? (Think self-proclaimed womenpriests vs self-proclaimed members of Congress.)

    Also, one has got to love the gratuitous mention of the scandal that afflicts also other denominations, organizations, and professions. It wouldn’t be a mainstream media story about the pope without it.

  • Julia

    The Pope didn’t make any previous statement about the issue of religious women in the US – therefore, he hasn’t softened his stance on “nuns”.

  • Mouse

    I think he’s just using positive terminology to reiterate the same thing. The report itself has some soft language in it too, as in “We appreciate all you’ve done…but you’ve gotten off track and it’s time to get a grip!”

    I don’t think, by the way, that FAITHFUL nuns are feeling any malaise. It’s the ones who have gone astray who are feeling some malaise. We must all pray that it bears fruits of repentance…because we’re not hearing any of that so far.

  • Mouse

    PS, the article might be trying to make it sound like the Pope and those who advise are at odds…you know, like there’s disagreement or like they might back down. Don’t count on it!!