I'm neither Catholic nor a nun, but ever since Sister Act I've believed that the Vatican needs to rein in American nuns.

The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.

Nuns were the often-unsung workers who helped build the Roman Catholic Church in this country, planting schools and hospitals and keeping parishes humming. But for the last three decades, their numbers have been declining — to 60,000 today from 180,000 in 1965.

While some nuns say they are grateful that the Vatican is finally paying attention to their dwindling communities, many fear that the real motivation is to reel in American nuns who have reinterpreted their calling for the modern world.

In the last four decades since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many American nuns stopped wearing religious habits, left convents to live independently and went into new lines of work: academia and other professions, social and political advocacy and grass-roots organizations that serve the poor or promote spirituality. A few nuns have also been active in organizations that advocate changes in the church like ordaining women and married men as priests.

Could there be any connection between the dramatic reduction in the number of nuns and their "reinterpretation" of their calling? Is it spiritually honest to take a vow of "chastity, poverty, and obedience" and to then stir up dissension and rebellion under the name of "advocating changes"? How can these questions be answered without an investigation?

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