American nuns speak out on 60 Minutes

A nun's first obedience is to God, says Sister Pat Farrell, who heads the group of American nuns accused by the Vatican of undermining the Church

The Catholic sister at the center of a disagreement between most of America's nuns and the Vatican says one of the reasons for the dispute is the fact that a nun's first obedience is to God. Sister Pat Farrell, who heads the group singled out by the Vatican for doing things like hosting speakers promoting "radical feminist themes," talks to Bob Simon for a 60 Minutes report to be broadcast Sunday, March 17 at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT.

Sister Pat is the past president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which once came out in favor of female priests. It represents 80 percent of America's 57,000 nuns. She says American nuns want to be given more important responsibilities in their parishes and in the other institutions they serve.

Ideas like these fly in the face of 1000-year-old Church law and Simon asks Sister Pat whether she is breaking a vow of obedience she took when she entered religious life. "Well I think there is one of the areas of misunderstanding and difference. Our first obedience is to God," she tells Simon. "What we obey is God and God's call to us as expressed in so many different sources, it's not just the teaching authority of the Church, although that is certainly a legitimate part of it," says Sister Pat.

An investigation by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- the entity, which under a different name, administered the infamous Inquisition in the 12th Century -- concluded with the appointment of an overseer to monitor the nuns group. Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain was chosen for the task. He appreciates the hard work the sisters do, but he's highly critical of the LCWR's choice of speakers. "It doesn't make sense that a conference of Women Religious would want to give a platform to somebody who would espouse ideas antithetical to what the Church teaches," he says.

Pope Benedict empowered the archbishop to review the LCWR's publications, programs and speakers, and possibly veto them. Simon said the job sounds like censorship, but Sartain disagrees and characterizes his role as one of protection. "In the context of the Church, we're always going to have the concern about being faithful to Christ," says the archbishop. "And all I can say to you, Bob, is I don't have any doubt about the reason why the Holy Father has asked me to do this, which is his genuine love and concern for religious women."

But Sister Pat believes something else may be motivating the men in the Vatican. "I don't know, but it feels to me like fear. What would happen if women really were given a place of equality in the Church?"

One of the tasks of the new pope will be choosing a head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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