Vatican City — The Vatican on Thursday unexpectedly ended its controversial reform of the main umbrella group of U.S. nuns, cementing a shift in tone and treatment of the U.S. sisters under the social justice-minded Pope Francis.

The Vatican said it had accepted a final report on its overhaul of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and declared that the “implementation of the mandate has been accomplished” nearly two years ahead of schedule.

It was an abrupt about-face given that just last year, the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, sharply rebuked the LCWR for its “regrettable” attitude and behavior during the process. He accused the LCWR of being in “open provocation” with the Holy See and U.S. bishops.

Sister Sharon Holland, president of the LCWR, said the process had been “long and challenging” but completed with mutual respect.

“We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences,” she said in a prepared statement.

The turnabout suggested possible papal intervention to end the standoff on amicable grounds, with the nuns accepting some doctrinal changes and the Vatican saying it was confident its goals had been achieved, before Francis’ high-profile trip to the United States in September.

When Mueller’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took over the LCWR in 2012, it accused the group of taking positions that undermined Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

It launched a five-year overhaul to fix a “grave” doctrinal crisis, fueled by concerns among U.S. conservatives that the group had strayed from church teaching by not focusing enough on issues like abortion and euthanasia.

The Vatican appointed a bishop to oversee the rewriting LCWR’s statutes, to review its plans and programs — including approving speakers — and ensure the organization properly followed Catholic prayer and ritual.

The takeover, combined with a separate Vatican investigation into the quality of life of U.S. nuns, deeply wounded the U.S. sisters who oversee the lion’s share of the Catholic Church’s social programs, running schools, hospitals, homeless shelters and soup kitchens.


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