VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican on Tuesday sternly told leaders of American nuns who were accused of being too feminist and politicised that their group "remains under the supreme direction of the Holy See".
The nuns, who requested the meeting to face Roman Catholic doctrinal officials over the accusations, said they would go back to the United States to decide their next move.
"We had open dialogue," said Sister Pat Farrell, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), after she and Sister Janet Mock, the executive-director, met Cardinal William Levada.
In April, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Levada heads, issued a blistering report on the LCWR, which represents some 80 percent of the more than 60,000 American Catholic nuns.
The assessment was issued after a Vatican investigation determined the LCWR had "serious doctrinal problems" and promoted "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith".
A Vatican statement said the meeting provided the opportunity to "discuss the issues and concerns raised by the doctrinal assessment in an atmosphere of openness and cordiality.".
But the statement sternly reminded the nuns that the LCWR "remains under the supreme direction of the Holy See".
The two nuns, who seemed confident as they left the Vatican, said they would refer to an assembly of the group in August before deciding their next move and responding to the Vatican's charges.
"We have no plan other than to take what came from the meeting today to our members to have further dialogue there, because that is how we operate," Farrell said.
Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain, who has been named by the Vatican to undertake the reforms of LCWR's statutes and programmes and its application of liturgical texts, was also present at the meeting. The process could take up to five years.
The April assessment also criticised the LCWR for challenging bishops and for being "silent on the right to life," saying it had failed to make the "Biblical view of family life and human sexuality" a central plank in its agenda.
The LCWR requested the meeting to address what a statement by the nuns said were "deficiencies in the process and the results" of the Vatican's assessment.
American nuns and bishops have been at odds over several issues. The nuns supported President Barack Obama's health care reform, while the bishops opposed it.
Many nuns said they were hurt by the Vatican's report, which they felt misunderstood their intentions and work for social justice.
But the American nuns received a groundswell of support from Catholics and the media in the United States who defended the their work with the poor and sick.
Supporters of the nuns said the women had helped the image of the Church in the United States at a time when it was engulfed in scandal over sexual abuse of minors by priests.
Farrell said the LCWR leadership were happy about the support they had received. "It is very affirming," she said.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Roger Atwood