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 / Updated  / Source: NBC News

The Vatican on Thursday unexpectedly ended its controversial takeover of the main umbrella group of U.S. nuns, signaling a major shift in tone and treatment of U.S. sisters under the social justice-minded Pope Francis.

The Vatican said it had accepted a final report on its overhaul of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and declared that the "implementation of the mandate has been accomplished."

When the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took over the LCWR in 2012, it accused the group of taking positions that undermined Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting "certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

The Vatican appointed a bishop to oversee rewriting the statutes of the LCWR, which represents 80 percent of the 57,000 Roman Catholic nuns in the U.S., reviewing all its plans and programs.

But the Vatican takeover, combined with a separate Vatican investigation into the quality of life of U.S. nuns, had deeply wounded the U.S. sisters who oversee the lion's share of the Catholic Church's social programs, running schools, hospitals, homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

The crackdown resulted in a remarkable outpouring of popular support for their work and fueled allegations of the church's heavy-handed, misogynistic treatment of women.

"Alleluia!" tweeted Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale, a theologian at Boston College and member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. "LCWR investigation by CDF is over!"


— The Associated Press