For the Vatican, the rebel nuns present a delicate challenge. In the U.S., many nuns find themselves politically on the opposite side of the church hierarchy, for instance during the health care debate, when they lent support to President Obama’s policies. Though nuns don’t have a formal position within the Vatican’s ranks — unlike, say, priests, they are considered laypeople — they are nonetheless an important part of the church’s public and popular face. And since their orders are nearly always self-funded, the Vatican has little traction, outside of theological condemnation, in reining them in. At issue is not only the role that nuns should play within the greater dialogue of the Catholic faith, but what direction the church itself should be headed, with Pope Benedict XVI one of the primary advocates of rolling back reforms in favor of a return toward traditional Catholicism. “The critique of the LCWR is a microcosm of a larger phenomenon in the church, specifically over how deeply the Second Vatican Council represented a break with the past,” says James Martin, a Jesuit priest and contributing editor at America, a Catholic magazine.
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