A prominent U.S. Catholic nuns group said it was "stunned" that the Vatican reprimanded it for spending too much time on poverty and social justice concerns and not enough on abortion and gay marriage.
In a stinging report on Wednesday, the Vatican said the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had been "silent on the right to life" and had failed to make the "Biblical view of family life and human sexuality" a central plank in its agenda. It accused the group of promoting "certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."
It also reprimanded American nuns for expressing positions on political issues that differed, at times, from views held by American bishops. Public disagreement with the bishops -- "who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals" -- is unacceptable, the report said.
The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a "doctrinal assessment" saying the Holy See was compelled to intervene with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious to correct "serious doctrinal problems."
The nuns group, based in Silver Spring, Md., said in a statement Thursday on its website, "The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment." It added it may give a lengthier response at a later date.
The conference says it represents 80 percent of America's 57,000 Catholic nuns. It is influential both in the United States and globally.
Academics who study the church said the Vatican's move was predictable given Pope Benedict's conservative views and efforts by Rome to quell internal dissent and curtail autonomy within its ranks.
"This is more an expression of the Church feeling under siege by trends it cannot control within the Church, much less within the broader society," University of Notre Dame historian Scott Appleby said.
That includes a steady drumbeat of calls to ordain women as priests, which the pope has reasserted was an impossibility.
The Vatican named Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and two other U.S. bishops to undertake the reforms of the conference's statutes, programs and its application of liturgical texts, a process it said could take up to five years.
Msnbc.com's James Eng contributed to this report from Reuters.
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