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Vatican Ends Scrutiny Of U.S. Nuns

Pope Francis talks with a delegation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious during an audience in the pontiff's studio at the Vatican on Thursday. The Vatican announced the unexpected conclusion of a controversial overhaul of the main umbrella group of U.S. nuns.

Updated at 10:04 a.m. ET

The Vatican has announced an end to an overhaul of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious — an abrupt conclusion to a five-year doctrinal overhaul of the main umbrella group for nuns in the U.S. that began in 2012.

The Vatican said Thursday that it has accepted a report on the overhaul of the LCWR "marking the conclusion of the Doctrinal Assessment" of the umbrella group.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli tells our Newscast unit the unexpected announcement is seen as a sign of Pope Francis' focus on a more merciful church.

LCWR leaders met with Pope Francis later Thursday, during their annual visit to Rome. David Gibson of Religion News Service described the meeting as "another indicator of the thaw in relations." He added:

"Both the nuns and the Vatican doctrinal officials sides agreed not to speak further to the media for the next month, and the joint statement and final report issued Thursday seemed to represent a quiet and merciful end to what had been a noisy showdown between Rome and the nuns — and one the Vatican never seemed likely to win."

The Rev. James Martin, SJ., editor at large of the Jesuit magazine America, said in a Facebook post that the LCWR agreed to implement some changes, "mainly regarding speakers and liturgies at its annual conventions. But overall, the operations of the LCWR remains intact."

Joshua J. McElwee, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, said the "news seems to bring to an end what had been an especially contentious period between the women religious and the Vatican."

At issue was an investigation of the LCWR that began in 2012 under Cardinal William Levada, the previous head of the Vatican's theological watchdog. As NPR's Scott Neuman reported at the time, "the Vatican issued a report declaring that the umbrella group representing most American nuns had strayed from church doctrine and adopted 'radical feminist' views. Rome ordered Seattle's archbishop to begin monitoring all operations of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious." The investigation called for a five-year doctrinal overhaul of the group.

Sister Simone Campbell, head of the Catholic social justice lobby Network, told NPR at the time that the investigation came "like a sock in the stomach."

A separate Vatican investigation into U.S. nuns ended last December with the Vatican expressing what NPR's Sylvia Poggioli called "appreciation for the dedicated work of nuns in education, health and among the poor."

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