The Vatican's effort to rein in American nuns achieved a new level of visibility over the last few weeks. On Monday, Stephen Colbert interviewed Sister Simone Campbell, director of Network—a Catholic social justice lobby. When asked about the church's recent censure, Campbell articulated the sisters' shared commitment to "the gospel," particularly "to live as Jesus did in relationship with people at the margins of our society." Colbert appeared to be impressed.

Shortly before that, the Catholic Theological Society of America defended Sister Margaret Farley, a Yale theologian whose book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics recently raised the Vatican's ire. The board defended Farley as a "highly respected member of the theological community," and said that it was "simply a matter of fact that faithful Catholics in every corner of the Church are raising ethical questions like those Professor Farley has addressed."

The Vatican's censuring of Farley's work follows its denunciation in April of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the umbrella group for female religious, representing most of the 57,000 nuns in the U.S. The LCWR, whom the Vatican described as "doctrinally problematic" for its alleged failure to uphold church teaching on abortion and same-sex marriage, rejected this critique defending the social justice work of its members as "the work of Jesus."

Meanwhile, leaders from seven Franciscan provinces in the U.S. expressed support for the LCWR by calling the Vatican's crackdown "excessive, given the evidence raised. … The efforts of LCWR to facilitate honest and faithful dialogue on critical issues of our times must not result in a level of ecclesial oversight that could, in effect, ...

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