Anyone familiar with the vast and complex edifice of the magisterium–the body of official Roman Catholic teaching–knew this was coming; that all the secular liberal high-fiving over Pope Francis’ charming and evocative defiances of papal pomp and prevarication was not going to conclude in some sort of Vatican III where women were ordained priests and LGBT folk were treated like anyone else and a truce was declared in the fight against abortion and contraception.
Still, the occasion of this realization must have been jarring to American liberals in and beyond the Catholic communion, per this news summary from Tom Kingston of the L.A. Times:
The Vatican said in a statement Monday that Francis had reaffirmed the doctrinal evaluation and criticism of U.S. nuns made last year by the Holy See under his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The assessment accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization that represents most U.S. female Catholic orders, of promoting “radical feminist themes” and ignoring the Vatican’s hard line on same-sex marriage and abortion.
At the time, the Vatican dispatched an archbishop to rewrite the group’s statutes and set up reeducation programs to bring nuns back into line, alleging that leaders of U.S. orders had challenged the church’s teachings on women’s ordination and ministry to homosexuals.
The move was denounced by Pat Farrell, then the head of the organization, as creating “pain and scandal.” Protest vigils were held outside churches, and a petition attacking the Vatican’s decision attracted 50,000 signatures.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious represents about 57,000 sisters, or 80% of U.S. nuns.
There’s no reason for anyone to attack Francis for “backsliding” or “hypocrisy.” Behaving more like a servant than a monarch during the early stages of his reign, and even taking seriously challenges like Vatican reform or the child abuse scandal, never for a moment meant this Pope was going to abandon teachings and disciplinary actions systematically entrenched by his two predecessors over decades. Had that been a real possibility, he would have never been elected in the first place.