By Alessandro Speciale
Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY (RNS) The head of the Vatican department that oversees men’s and women’s religious orders says he was left in the dark about the Vatican investigation that led to the makeover of the largest umbrella group for American nuns.
In a story first reported by National Catholic Reporter, Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for religious orders, said on Sunday (May 5) that the tensions sparked by the Vatican crackdown of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious caused him “much pain.”
Braz de Aviz’ remarks reflect the turf battles encumbering the Vatican, as Pope Francis sets about to reform the Roman Curia, or central bureaucracy, and add a new layer of intrigue to one of the major stories involving the American church in recent years.
In April 2012, the Vatican issued a “doctrinal assessment” that criticized the LCWR for not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination.
The Vatican also chided the organization for “serious doctrinal problems” among many LCWR members, and said LCWR conferences suffered from “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”
Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain was appointed to overhaul the group’s practices and perceived theological ambiguities.
While the choice to discipline U.S. sisters became one of the defining acts of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, Francis last month “reaffirmed the findings” of the Vatican investigation and the “program of reform” for LCWR, which represents the majority of America’s 57,000 nuns.
Speaking at the meeting of the International Union of Women Superiors, Braz de Aviz said the decision to issue the critical report on U.S. sisters was taken without even informing or consulting his office.
When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, informed him of its findings, Braz de Aviz said, the investigation was already completed.
At a subsequent meeting with CDF leaders, Braz de Aviz complained about the lack of information-sharing between Vatican departments, according to the NCR report.
“We will obey what the Holy Father wants and what will be decided through you … But we must say that this material which should be discussed together has not been discussed together,” Braz de Aviz told the then-CDF chief, American Cardinal William Levada.
In an official interview given during the event, the cardinal said that “dialogue” between LCWR and the Vatican is “possible,” noting that “it isn’t just a matter of ’we are right, they are wrong,’” he said.
Braz de Aviz also expressed his appreciation for the Rome gathering’s decision to discuss issues of authority within the Catholic Church. “It is a problem I feel a lot too, not in order to weaken authority but to put (authority) under a higher light,” he said.
According to Vatican Radio, the cardinal spoke of the “need for a wide-ranging review of structures of power within the Catholic Church.”
Francis is expected to briefly meet with a group of women superiors, including LCWR’s president Sister Florence Deacon, on Wednesday (May 7).
During his Sunday homily at the conference, Braz de Aviz also described the process that led to the appointment of his new deputy, José Rodríguez Carballo, in what is Francis’ only appointment within the Roman Curia so far.
The No. 2 position had been left vacant after Benedict transferred Archbishop Joseph Tobin to Indianapolis last October.
Francis asked Braz de Aviz to present him with a list of three names, and only asked who was Braz de Aviz’ preferred choice. The cardinal then named Carballo as his favorite candidate, and the pope simply accepted his suggestion.
“It’s a very simple way of doing things … it doesn’t overcomplicate things,” Braz de Aviz said.