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Nuns brace for Vatican meeting

Posted at 11:51 AM, Jun 09, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-09 09:48:22-04

By Jim Roope, CNN

(CNN) – The leadership of America’s largest group of Catholic nuns will head to the Vatican on Tuesday to address accusations that it strayed from church doctrine.

“I don’t know why Rome is not happy,” said Sister Vickey Haran, a nun from the Los Angeles area. “All of our energies have gone into making ourselves better so that we can serve the poor people of God.”

Originally from Sligo, Ireland, Haran has been a nun for 50 years in the Holy Faith religious order, and she’s been in the United States since 1967. She said she is heartbroken and angry about the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment that the leadership group representing most American nuns has been challenging the church’s doctrine on homosexuality, the male-only priesthood, artificial birth control, celibacy and abortion.

An April report from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s watchdog on doctrine, said the largest umbrella group of American nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had allowed “radical feminism” to be espoused at their conferences unchecked. The group represents about 80% of American nuns.

“I think that Rome has to look at itself first,” said Haran, who will not be heading to the Vatican next week. “You know, clean up your own house first because it’s under tremendous strain and stress; it must be, with all of the allegations and everything that has gone on in the past.”

She said the Vatican is emphasizing what nuns don’t do rather than all the good the sisters do.

The doctrinal assessment praised the sisters’ work on social justice issues but said they were not doing enough on abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

The Vatican report was also critical of the nuns because of their support for the Affordable Care Act, which will require private health plans to cover artificial birth control, the use of which is against Catholic teaching. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly opposes that mandate.

But Haran said she's sees a difference in the letter of the law and the spirit of it.

"If a poor woman comes to my door in the morning, I can't start telling her, 'Well, Rome says this.' That's not what they want to hear," Haran said.

The Rev. Richard Albarano of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Burbank, California, said that given the sex-abuse scandal and the recent accusations against the nuns, the Vatican risks becoming "distasteful to the people of God."

"The Vatican is not the church," Albarano said. "It is part of the church. And the Vatican is made up of our brothers, mostly, and a few sisters, who are supposed to be one with all of us in the church."

Haran said faithfulness lies in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

"Leaders in the church come and go, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is always there," Haran said. "We base all what we do on the gospel values. You know, Jesus turned nobody away."

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Cardinal William Levada, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said in a statement last month that the purpose of the doctrinal assessment was "aimed at fostering a patient and collaborative renewal of this conference of major superiors in order to provide a stronger doctrinal foundation for its many laudable initiatives and activities."

Levada, an American who was formerly the archbishop of San Francisco, called the face-to-face meeting in Rome critical. "Such a personal encounter allows for the opportunity to review the document together in a spirit of mutual respect and collaboration, hopefully thereby avoiding possible misunderstandings of the document's intent and scope," Levada's statement said.

"As the issues evidenced in the doctrinal assessment involve essential questions of faith, the Holy Father has given the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a special mandate to collaborate with the (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) in a renewal of their work through a concentrated reflection on the doctrinal foundations of that work."

Haran said she is praying the Vatican realizes the sisters are doing both the work of the church and of God.

CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.