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Former Joliet Bishop Appointed To Keep Nuns’ Group In Line With Doctrine

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NEW YORK (CBS) — The Vatican has ordered a crackdown on a group that represents most Catholic nuns in the United States, and the former Bishop of Joliet is coming in to keep the group in line.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, the Vatican says there is serious concern about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a group that represents 55,000 American Catholic nuns.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartrain, who previously served as bishop of Joliet, has been appointed to make sure the group gets more in line with strict Catholic teachings, according to the New York Times.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith says the group has not been speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and the idea of women as priests.

The New York Times reports the nuns’ group has challenged official church teaching on homosexuality and the men-only priesthood, and the Vatican is accusing the group of promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

The nuns’ group also got in trouble with challenging Vatican bishops, who are “the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals,” by such acts as coming out in support of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul in 2010, the New York Times reported.

Bishops Thomas J. Paprocki and Leonard Blair will assist Sartrain in overseeing the group, the New York Times reported. They will have up to five years to revise the group’s rules, and will approve of every speaker brought in for the group’s public programs and replace a handbook that had been used to facilitate discussions on matters that are considered doctrine and should not be challenged, the New York Times reported.

Sartrain has headed the archdiocese in Seattle since 2010. His appointment that year stirred controversy after his diocese ordained a priest who ended up being charged with sex abuse.

The priest, Alejandro Flores, pleaded guilty in September 2010 to sexually abusing a young west suburban boy over a five-year period starting in 2005, when he was a seminarian. The year before, Flores’ ordination had been delayed twice – first when he said he himself had been sexually abused in a Bolivian orphanage as a boy, and again when it was discovered that he had looked at male pornography on a church computer, the Chicago Tribune reported.

But ultimately, the ordination went ahead in June 2009, and Flores remained stationed at Holy Family Parish in Shorewood. But soon afterward, his actions began to draw attention of the man dating the mother of his alleged victim, who saw him in a “suspicious position” with the boy in a car, and who also saw him in the bedroom of the boy’s St. Charles home, the Tribune reported.

Flores was charged with sexually abusing the boy, who was 13 in 2010. He later attempted suicide by jumping from a church choir loft, but ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison, the Tribune reported.

The Flores scandal was enough for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests to write a letter to the pope asking for Sartrain’s appointment as Seattle archbishop to be rescinded because Flores ended up being ordained, according to the Seattle Weekly.

At the time of his sentencing, a spokesman for the Joliet Diocese told the Tribune that in hindsight, Flores should never have been ordained, but the delays were part of an “extraordinary caution” that Sartrain took before deciding to elevate Flores, the Tribune reported.

The nuns’ group that Sartrain will oversee is described by the New York Times as an umbrella organization of women’s religious communities, and claims to represents 80 percent of Catholic sisters nationwide. The group was founded in 1956 at the Vatican’s request, and answers to the Vatican, the newspaper reported.

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