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Vatican reprimands U.S. nuns over "radical feminist themes"

Tension has been building for years between America's Catholic nuns and the Vatican. Now, the Vatican has reprimanded some of the sisters. An investigation released this week accuses the nuns of challenging some of the fundamental beliefs of the church. CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports an American bishop has been appointed to bring the nuns back in line.

The Vatican is accusing the largest organization of catholic nuns in America of falling out of line with church teachings -- while promoting "radical feminist themes".

The reprimand was aimed at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a group that represents most of America's 57,000 catholic sisters. The Vatican praised the nuns for "promoting social justice" but slams them for protesting church doctrine - on women's ordination and homosexuals. The Vatican also complains the nuns have been "silent" on issues like the right to life and abortion.

Vatican orders crackdown on U.S. nun group

The leadership conference said it was "stunned by the conclusions". Sisters close to the group - including Simone Campbell of the anti poverty group network- say the nuns frequently question church dogma, but have never preached defiance.

Is this a group of radical feminists teaching outside the doctrines of the church?

"Heavens no. That's ridiculous. There's no evidence of being unfaithful or being doctrinally out of step with the church . It's not there," said Campbell.

The Vatican specifically criticizes the nuns' leadership conference for public statements that disagree with positions taken by U.S. bishops."

Most notably, the conference did clash with the bishops on health care reform. The nuns were strongly in favor, the bishops opposed.

Father Robert Kaslyn of Catholic University
Father Robert Kaslyn of Catholic University CBS

Spokesmen for both the Vatican and U.S. bishops declined comment. But Father Robert Kaslyn of Catholic University explained the leadership conference gets its authority from Rome - and isn't authorized to question the church or the bishops.

"As public representatives by their very existence they have an obligation to reflect fundamental church teaching on matters," said Kaslyn.

But for American Catholics, a crackdown on nuns has ignited an intense debates between those who say Rome has the right to demand conformity and those who see the Vatican trying to control religious women.

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