ROME, May 10, 2013 ( – In an interview with the liberal US newspaper National Catholic Reporter (NCR), Brazilian cardinal who heads the Vatican’s congregation for religious sisters has denied the Vatican’s claim, made in a statement issued Tuesday, that his office had been working closely with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) on the efforts at reforming some US religious orders.

Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, said again on Wednesday that he had had no knowledge of a report that was in the works by the CDF in 2012 criticizing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). 

The Vatican had issued a formal statement against the NCR’s original coverage, accusing the “media” of creating the appearance of a conflict between Braz de Aviz and the CDF, headed by Archbishop Gerhard Müller. “Such an interpretation of the Cardinal's remarks is not justified,” the statement said. 


But Braz de Aviz told reporters at a press conference that the original NCR interview was essentially correct, that there was only one “tiny point in the interview” that could have been interpreted incorrectly, a problem that was probably one of translation. 

NCR’s report was otherwise “very precise,” he said. “Just one sentence, the one on authority, because it was taken out of context. … The rest of the article was fine.” 

The flap started with May 5th coverage by NCR reporting that Braz de Aviz had told an international meeting of about 800 sisters in Rome that “dialogue” with the CDF was “something which did not take place previously.” He said that he had told Cardinal William Levada, the head of the CDF at the time, that the matter of the LCWR should have been discussed between the Vatican offices but was not.

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“We have to change this way of doing things,” he said. “We have to improve these relationships. Cardinals can't be mistrustful of each other. This is not the way the church should function.” 

The CDF’s report, issued in April 2012, had described LCWR, an umbrella group of sisters, as “radical feminists” and laid out five year plan of reform to bring the group back into line with Catholic teaching on homosexuality, abortion and some issues even more fundamental to Catholicism like the nature of God as a Trinity of Persons. 

Vatican watchers are viewing the highly unusual public spat between two of the most senior members of the Curia, and the extremely rare denial of a formal public correction, as a major test of the pope’s authority. 

Braz de Aviz said that it was only recently, after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Francis, who has since confirmed the CDF’s assessment of LCWR, that he has had the “courage” to openly admit the conflict. 

Speaking at a press conference following his talk, Braz de Aviz said that while his office “always obeys” the pope, “the problem very often is what kind of news goes to the Holy Father.” 

Pope Francis has yet to publicly address the conflict between Braz de Aviz and the doctrinal office, but he made some strong statements on the nature of the vow of obedience to the meeting of sisters. On the same day Braz de Aviz spoke, Francis told the sisters that obedience, while a genuine movement of the Holy Spirit, cannot remain subjective, but “that obedience also passes through human mediations” specifically, those of the hierarchy of the Church. 

“It isn’t possible that a consecrated woman or man might ‘feel themselves not to be with the Church. A ‘feeling’ with the Church that has generated us in Baptism; a ‘feeling’ with the Church that finds its filial expression in fidelity to the Magisterium, in communion with the Bishops and the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, a visible sign of that unity,” Pope Francis said.  

“It is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Jesus but without the Church, of following Jesus outside of the Church, of loving Jesus without loving the Church. Feel the responsibility that you have of caring for the formation of your Institutes in sound Church doctrine, in love of the Church, and in an ecclesial spirit.” 

Asked at Wednesday’s press conference whether he thought Pope Francis is trying to “minimise” the conflict, Braz de Aviz said, “Pope Francis trusts us so much it almost frightens us, in general. But he always has to speak as the pope. For me, I have to really use this trust well.”