Prayer isn't the only thing on the minds of nuns in New York City. Last week, a letter from the Vatican condemned the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the organization that oversees most of the United States' nuns, for radical feminist ideas and pushing an agenda that backs the ordination of women.
The letter from the Vatican transformed the four-day conference from a contemplative meeting to an ideological one, according to opening remarks from Pat Farrell, the L.C.W.R president. Both open and closed-door meetings were held to discuss the ways that the nuns react to the doctrinal assessment. The conference was held last week in Saint Louis, but there were more than a few eye rolls about the meeting from some New York City nuns.
"We are religious people, not social workers," said Sister Maria of Saint Paul's Church in East Harlem. She is from an order of nuns whose beliefs are more conservative than those put forth by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
With a shy laugh and a trill of an accent from her native Mexico, Sister Maria drew a distinction between religious dedication and working in the community or as an activist. "The thing that we have to do first is concentrate on our religious life and our prayer. Because of that, it gives us strength to work with the people outside."
Many nuns at convents across Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn were not willing to discuss the beliefs of the L.C.W.R. One sister in Brooklyn said that the belief in prayer and dialogue would help work out any conflicts between the Vatican and the L.C.W.R. Another, who attended the conference in Saint Louis described it as a "very wonderful meeting, very positive indeed."
Still, issues surrounding women in the Catholic Church loom large for parishioners, too. Maria Dozeman was raised Catholic and wore a cross as she walked down the steps of Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan on Sunday. She said that although she is a spiritual person, she did not want either of her daughters, ages 6 and 9, going "anywhere near the doctrine."
"I just don't want them to grow up in a culture where their voice wouldn't ever matter, and their choices would be frowned upon,” she explained. “I just feel there's a lot of negativity that comes from the doctrine, and it's a source of great conflict for me."