Did the pope soften his stance on nuns?

Here's an interesting story from Reuters. Written by Philip Pullella, it's headlined "After stinging report, Pope softens tone for U.S. nuns." And the lede reinforces that claim:

Pope Benedict on Friday held out an olive branch to American Roman Catholic nuns, who are reeling from a stinging Vatican report that criticized them as being feminist and politicized.

But when it comes to substantiating this "softening" claim, I'm not entirely sure how well it's handled. It sounds almost like he's reading from the report in question -- the one that praised the Leadership Conference of Women Religious prior to criticizing them for their silence and theological drift in certain areas:

"I wish to reaffirm my deep gratitude for the example of fidelity and self-sacrifice given by many consecrated women (nuns) in your country," he said in an address to visiting U.S. bishops.

In a reference to the malaise felt by many American nuns after the report issued last month, he said he hoped that "this moment of discernment will bear abundant spiritual fruit for the revitalization and strengthening of their communities in fidelity to Christ and the Church ..."

Reuters describes that report as "blistering" and reports that it shocked "most American nuns." The critical portions of the report are highlighted before we're told:

In his address to visiting U.S. bishops, the pope did not mention the scolding report and used much softer language in describing his view of religious life.

"The urgent need in our own time for credible and attractive witnesses to the redemptive and transformative power of the Gospel makes it essential to recapture a sense of the sublime dignity and beauty of the consecrated life ..." Benedict said.

Last month's report prompted much criticism of the Vatican attempt to rein in the nuns, who were seen by many as helping the image of the Catholic Church in the United States at a time when it was engulfed the scandal over sexual abuse of minors by priests and accusations and bishops covered it up.

Now, I read the quotes as Benedict simply reiterating the claims of the report. He's pretty clear when he speaks, and it seems pretty clear to me. I'm open to the argument that he was backtracking or repudiating the report by softening his language, but I don't see the evidence in this Reuters report. What do you think?

Oh, and for the evidence of what the author means when he says that the nuns were "seen by many" as "helping the image of the Catholic Church" for all those reasons in the last paragraph excerpted above, the reporter tells us that the New York Times criticized the report. Heh.

Anyway, what do you think? Is Benedict undermining or reducing the strength of the report as Reuters claims? Or was Benedict reiterating its claims?

Image of Benedict via marcokenya / Shutterstock.com

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