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Seattle Archbishop To Oversee Nun Reforms

Liz Jones

Catholic nuns in Washington state are waiting to see how a new mandate from the Vatican might affect their work on social issues.

A watchdog group within the church has ordered an overhaul of the largest group of American nuns. It criticizes the nuns for taking positions against the church on things like homosexuality and abortion. Seattle's archbishop will oversee the reforms, as KUOW's Liz Jones reports.


Seattle resident Kathleen Shannon Dorcy spent nearly three years in a convent. She was in training to become a nun. Then she fell in love and left the order. That was decades ago.

She's remained a devout Catholic ever since. But last year, Shannon Dorcy stopped going to church. The issue that drove her away?

Shannon Dorcy: "The inquisition of the religious women over the last two years just offended me immensely."

Her term "religious women" is short for a group called the Leadership Conference of Religious Women (LCRW). It represents about 80 percent of nuns in the US.

Dorcy became offended when the Vatican asked nuns to document their political and social views. That was part of a comprehensive investigation of American nuns.

Results of that review, in part, prompted this week's mandate from the Vatican. That mandate calls for an overhaul of a large nun association, the LCRW.

The Vatican has appointed Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to oversee the reforms for the nun association. He was travelling to Rome and unavailable for comment.

The Vatican accuses the LCRW of promoting radical feminist and liberal positions not in line with the church. Positions on things like abortion, homosexuality, assisted suicide and female priesthood.

Shannon Dorcy is an associate member of a nun community in Edmonds. She's talked with lots of nuns who are disheartened by the Vatican's crackdown.

Shannon Dorcy: "I think it builds a disconnect. It builds a chasm of hurt and distrust."

Still, she doubts this mandate for reform will ultimately lead nuns to behave differently. But she hopes it will spark some debate in the church about the roles and rights of women.

Nun communities in the Seattle area contacted for this story declined to comment.

Archbishop Sartain's review of the LCRW's statutes, plans and programs could take up to five years.

I'm Liz Jones, KUOW News.

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