A Vatican crackdown on a large group of American nuns labeled as "radical feminists" has put a spotlight on the polarized American church. As sisters for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious negotiate with bishops delegated by Rome, a climate of fear has registered with missionary nuns in Rome on the 50th anniversary of the reform-driven Second Vatican Council.
On assignment for GlobalPost and National Catholic Reporter, Jason Berry traveled to Rome and Germany to explore the Vatican's investigation, what caused it and the issues that lie ahead.
The renowned church scholar Hans Küng accuses the Vatican of waging "an Inquisition."
In the first phase of Berry's reporting, he looks at the apparent double-standard in Vatican justice: key cardinals and bishops involved in the LCWR investigation disgraced the church in the clergy abuse scandal, yet enjoy a de facto immunity from punishment for their behavior.
He profiles LCWR president, Sister Patricia Farrell of Iowa, who risked her life in Chile working to halt government torture and in San Salvador with villagers displaced by military bombings in that country's grisly civil war.
Berry's reporting focuses on the fault line between a global church that is "doctrinally conservative and pastorally liberal," as one missionary says, between the nuns' deep involvement in social justice work, and the Vatican attempt to impose silence and control speech at their conferences. His coverage raises questions about the lengths to which Pope Benedict and the Vatican will go in imposing a discplinary culture, policing obedience over nuns as they push a Vatican II agenda of working with the poor in the world's most beleaguered places.