Centuries ago, that kind of challenge could have been considered heresy. It's hard to imagine that wasn't on Pat Farrell's mind when she traveled to Rome last year. She met with the enforcers of church orthodoxy who ordered the investigation that found her group had undermined the Church - the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Bob Simon: This is the same group, is it not, that ran the Inquisition?
Pat Farrell: It is the same office, under a different name, that's right.
Bob Simon: What was your reaction, your visceral reaction, when you heard that you were being accused of radical feminism?
Pat Farrell: It reflects to me fear...
Bob Simon: What are they afraid of?
Pat Farrell: 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?
She says sisters want a place at the table - in their parishes and in the church hierarchy. In the past her group has gone on the record supporting the ordination of women as priests -- a topic so taboo the Church says it's not even up for discussion.
Bob Simon: You did take a vow of obedience, didn't you?
Pat Farrell: Absolutely.
Bob Simon: If you'll permit me sister, it doesn't sound like you're being terribly obedient right now.
Pat Farrell: Well I think there is one of the areas of misunderstanding and difference. Our first obedience is to God. 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.
Bob Simon: Would it be distorting your position to say that you just don't want the men to tell you what to do anymore?
Pat Farrell: We have never wanted the men to tell us what to do.
But the Vatican was so alarmed by what it saw that it called the situation a crisis - and last year, the archbishop of Seattle, Peter Sartain, was appointed to take command of the nuns group and bring them into compliance.
Peter Sartain: 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.
Bob Simon: I can understand that it's problematic for the Church, but you've called it a crisis. A bit hyperbolic?
Peter Sartain: I don't think so. And the reason I don't think so is because there comes to be a point at which we have to get a handle on this, so that it doesn't continue to evolve into something much more problematic.
Not that the Church didn't already have enough problems on its hands: the administration of Pope Benedict was under siege for not being tough enough on priests accused of sexual abuse.
Bob Simon: You don't think that the timing is a bit off, that when the Church is still really under condemnation for the pedophile scandal and the cover-up that it brings up another issue which is very contentious?
Peter Sartain: The Church is dealing at the same time always with a variety of issues. This issue although it's of a different nature in terms of its importance for the Church and for the future of religious life in the Church, is one that needed attention now also.