US 'radical' Leadership Conference nuns in Vatican talks

Sisters of the Leadership Conference of the Women Religious hold a vigil in support of the public option on healthcare reform, Washington DC, 8 December 2009 The nuns and their supporters have organised vigils outside US churches

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Leaders of the largest group of US nuns have met Vatican officials in a bid to defuse an escalating row.

The nuns, accused of adopting "certain radical feminist themes", were told by the Vatican their group remained "under the supreme direction of the Holy See".

They responded by stating they would return to the United States to consider their next move, Reuters reports.

A Vatican report in April said the nuns of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had ignored Church teachings.

It accused the nuns of taking positions on issues ranging from homosexuality to the all-male priesthood that undermined Catholic teaching.

'Greater polarisation'

Speaking before the talks, the nuns said they had been unjustly criticised.

Meanwhile, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said they hoped to forge a "mutual understanding" with the nuns.

"Obviously there is a hope for a positive usefulness for all parties, for the Church and the persons involved, and for the orders of nuns," he told reporters.

Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference, met Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican's doctrine office and a former Archbishop of San Francisco. She also met the bishop charged with overseeing a Vatican-backed overhaul of the group.

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says that despite the Vatican's hopes for constructive talks, the nuns have shown little desire for compromise.

They were understandably hurt, he said, at being told to mend their ways by the Vatican at a time when the US Church has lost credibility over sexual abuse scandals involving priests.

The nuns also knew they had the support of many ordinary Catholics in the US, who had been organising vigils outside churches, our correspondent adds.

The Vatican report proposed replacing the group's leadership with three bishops, who would have the authority to rewrite the organisation's statutes, meeting agendas and liturgical texts.

The nuns said the report had "caused scandal and pain throughout the Church community and created greater polarisation".

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