Joe Biden just loves nuns. "You're looking at a kid who had 12 years of Catholic education," the vice president said with a grin at this week's kick-off event for the third "Nuns on the Bus" national tour run by Network, a Catholic lobby group based in D.C. The sisters will travel 5,252 miles and visit 36 cities as part of a push to register voters and encourage participation in November's midterm elections. For a lifelong politician raised in the Church, a political rally with a bus full of sisters is a dream; after all, nuns "are more popular than anybody else," Biden observed.
But popularity isn't always enough in the Church. In 2012, American sisters whose orders are represented by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) were censured by the Vatican for, among other things, writing letters to the Holy See that suggested the "sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality" and having "a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes" in some of their programs and presentations. The LCWR represents 315 orders, or roughly 80 percent of the women religious in the United States; it is often considered less conservative than America's other major organization of sisters, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. Two years ago, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith ordered a formal review of the LCWR. Last spring, it decided that anyone who participates in any of the organization's events has to be vetted by Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain, the secretary of the Church's representative body in the U.S., the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He declined to be interviewed for this article.