Sister on U.S. nun controversy: "Hostile takeover"

(CBS News) Sister Maureen Fiedler, host of the public radio program "Interfaith Voices," calls looming moves by the Roman Catholic Church toward a group of American nuns a "hostile takeover."

The moves would follow an accusatory mandate last month

Fiedler, who has been an activist for social justice and racial and gender equality for more than three decades, said on "CBS This Morning," "(The Church leaders) say in their mandate that they're going to send in an archbishop and two bishops who will work with the nuns in order to - get this - revise their statutes, their handbook, their plans and programs, their conferences, their speakers, everything. If this were the corporate world, I think we would call it a 'hostile takeover.'"

Last month, the Vatican accused the LCWR, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 57,000 American nuns, of promoting "radical feminist themes." The letter faulted the LCWR for being too "silent" on issues such as "the right to life" and for protesting the Catholic Church's "approach to homosexuals," which considers homosexual acts sinful.

(For more on the nun controversy, watch a Wyatt Andrews "CBS This Morning" report in the video below.)

The LCWR is meeting this week near Washington. Members are deciding what to do about charges that they're out of touch with the church's teachings. The nuns' response to the Vatican will be released Friday. One dramatic option could be to disband the conference's legal ties to the Vatican, then simply regroup as a Catholic nonprofit group.

Fiedler said this discussion is about more than just the Vatican versus nuns. "This is about what kind of a Catholic Church we're going to be," she said. "Because when I hear Vatican mandate, what I hear is the voice of the church of 19th Century, the voice of the church before that wonderful reforming council, the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, when it was exhilarating to be a Catholic in those days, when the windows were open and fresh air was let into the church. That's what nuns today have embraced, is that kind of a church. Not a dictatorial one, but a collaborative one."

As for the accusation of "radical feminism," Fiedler said the term has a cultural ring to it, but most nuns, she said, believe you can't be a good Catholic or nun without being a feminist. "Feminism means a belief in the fundamental equality of women and men," Fiedler said. "As far as I'm concerned, that's gospel 101. It's also teachings of the Second Vatican Council. If you could indulge you for a second, my favorite quotation from that council comes from the document on the church in the modern world, which is, every type of discrimination based on sex is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent."

The Vatican's mandate, Fiedler said, pushes the nuns to be more concerned about same-sex marriage and other issues than poverty.

"I think nuns embracing the teachings that came from the Second Vatican Council have become deeply involved on issues of poverty, injustice, in peace, in the environment," Fiedler said. "We're very concerned about those things. Those are our whole lives. Our vows call us to give our lives to other people. And if we're at all concerned about people of a gay or lesbian orientation, we believe they're equal, too."

For more with Fiedler on a new vision for the church, watch her full "CTM" interview in the video above.

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