The Vatican has issued a scathing condemnation of the main association of Catholic nuns in the United States for taking liberal stances on contraception, homosexuality and female priests.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) said in a statement on Thursday it was "stunned" by the Vatican report which pointed to "serious doctrinal problems" and "unacceptable positions" on a range of issues.
It accused members of LCWR, which represents around 45,000 US nuns, or 80 percent of the total, of "corporate dissent" with the Church's teachings against homosexuality and said it was pursuing "radical feminist themes".
The Roman Catholic Church's main enforcer, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said it had therefore decided to appoint the Archbishop of Seattle, Peter Sartain, to oversee the association and ensure it toes the line.
Sartain will provide "review, guidance and approval, where necessary of the work of the LCWR" and reform its statutes in agreement with the Vatican.
His task will be "to ensure that the scope of the LCWR's mission is fulfilled in accordance with Church teachings and discipline", it said.
LCWR said it was "taken by surprise" as its leadership was in Rome for a regular annual meeting and had received no forewarning about the report.
"This is a moment of great import for religious life and the wider Church. We ask your prayers as we meet with the LCWR National Board within the coming month to review the mandate and prepare a response," the association said.
The Vatican report in particular condemned LCWR for being "silent on the right to life from conception to natural death", a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.
"Further, issues of crucial importance to the life of Church and society, such as the Church's Biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes Church teaching," it said.
"Occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the Church's authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose," it added.
The report also said that the LCWR in 1977 had taken a position against the ordination of priests as a male prerogative and that subsequent speeches by the association on the issue were "a matter of serious concern".
"This public refusal has never been corrected," the Vatican said.
The report, which follows a three-year investigation, also recognised however the value of the association's activities in the United States "particularly in the many schools, hospitals and institutions of support for the poor".
LCWR was founded in 1956 and has come under criticism recently from the Catholic hierarchy for endorsing US President Barack Obama's healthcare reform, including provisions on abortion and contraception.© ANP/AFP