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May 15, 2012
ICCR Responds to Vatican Investigation of US Nuns
    by Robert Kropp

The all-male Church hierarchy apparently wants less social justice work by women religious in the US, and more outspoken opposition to homosexuality, abortion, and women's ordination.

Readers of are surely aware of the work on behalf of social justice performed for the last 40 years by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and its members. A search on articles posted here will reveal a history of successful corporate engagements that have improved corporate responsibility while furthering the organization's faith-based mission to enhance the quality of life of the most vulnerable among us.

In the last month alone, ICCR and its members have spoken out about allegations of widespread bribery and corruption by Wal-mart's Mexican subsidiary, and have called for steps to eliminate human sex trafficking at this year's Olympic Games in London.

Many of the members of ICCR are Catholic nuns responsible for the investment decision-making of their religious orders. "There isn't a single justice issue, be it social, environmental or economic, or a single sector in the business world, that hasn't been positively influenced by the determined work of the ICCR sisters," Rev. David Schilling, ICCR's Program Director for Human Rights and Resources, stated in a recent press release.

"Since the early days when our coalition first formed during the campaign to end apartheid over 40 years ago, they have been on the forefront of this movement, exhorting companies to consider the impacts - on the planet and its people - of their operations."

ICCR's press release was published in the aftermath of an announcement that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has launched an investigation into the activities of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which includes more than 80% of the nuns in the US.

"These sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church's teaching on human sexuality," the Vatican stated. Furthermore, "a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith" was noted as well.

When ICCR and its members began engaging with corporations on issues concerning social justice more than 40 years ago, the concept of investors guiding corporations toward a role of greater social responsibility was revolutionary. While investing according to personal values has existed in the US since the 19th century, ICCR's corporate engagement activities rank among the most influential developments in the practice of sustainable investing.

One need not be observant to conclude that the work of Catholic women religious aligns with the teachings on social justice found in the gospels. "The sisters of ICCR have had a tremendous impact on our organization's ability to be prescient, often seeing the risks and hearing of the injustices way before they hit the headlines," said Kathryn McCloskey, Vice Chair of ICCR.

One does not need to be overly cynical either, to observe that attacking nuns for their social justice work serves as a distraction for a Vatican patriarchy rocked by widespread child sex abuse scandals. It has been widely reported that former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who fled to the Vatican in disgrace following the sex abuse scandal there, "was 'the person in Rome most forcefully supporting' the LCWR investigation," according to Religious News Service.

Responses to the Vatican's announcement, by LCWR and even by ICCR, have been cautiously worded, no doubt reflecting concerns over the power wielded by the Vatican patriarchy. LCWR stated that it would begin its discussions of the crackdown at a meeting of its board later this month.

"The conference plans to move slowly, not rushing to judgment," LCWR stated. "We will engage in dialogue where possible."

One of the more forceful responses to the crackdown on US nuns came in a letter from 15 women who were once members of religious communities.

"There is no room for dissent," the former nuns wrote. "Women religious leaders need to keep their ideas to themselves and simply follow the dictates and directions of Rome. Anything less than this position will be met with censure, public embarrassment, heavy-handedness, and even potential expulsion."

"The missions of service, education, healthcare, and spiritual ministry are alive through these women even when their approaches to ministry may change to meet the needs of the people they serve," the letter continued. "Their spiritualities, ministries, and services are shaped and are changed by the ever evolving challenges of culture and history."

Laura Berry, ICCR's Executive Director, said of the women religious in ICCR's membership, "Through their shareholder advocacy on behalf of the world's most vulnerable, they have earned a place of respect in the boardrooms of some of the world's most powerful and influential corporations. Through their efforts to redress business tolls on human rights, environmental health, food and water safety and economic justice, they have been a cornerstone of our organization's work and are an enduring voice for justice in our world."


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