By Carol Costello and Bob Ruff, CNN
(CNN) – The "talk" has been "heated" of late on Sister Maureen Fiedler's WAMU radio show in Washington DC. A sample: "Some of my friends asked me whether Vatican officials suffer a deep-seated hatred of women."
Sister Maureen understands why her listeners, mostly Catholic nuns and religious women, feel the need to sound off. They've been frustrated, even angry, ever since the Vatican ordered two sweeping investigations into the religious views and lifestyles of American nuns.
"What I hear from a lot of lately with regard to this investigation," said Fiedler, "is, let me get this straight: It's priests that abuse children. Some priests, of course. It's bishops that covered it up. So they're investigating nuns?
One of those Vatican-ordered investigations, which are now nearing completion, involves a two-part questionnaire consisting of 120 detailed questions like: What is the process for responding to sisters who dissent publicly from Church teaching...? How does the manner of dress of your sisters...(lend) to the dignity...of your vocation? And, what are the procedures for dealing with matters (like) civil disobedience, criminal activity, sexual improprieties, etc?
Sister Marlene Weisenbeck is concerned, too. She is the past president of Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization that says it represents tens of thousands of nuns and women religious across the country. She says many nuns are alarmed by what they call intrusive questions put forth by the male hierarchy of the church.
"We weren't quite expecting to walk into this kind of process that would test our authenticity and our integrity."
Last month, LCWR held its annual leadership conference to discuss, among other things, how to handle the Vatican investigations. Some nuns have decided to fight back by boycotting all or part of the questionnaire. Others are still deciding whether to answer questions in a second Vatican-ordered investigation, one that involves face-to-face questioning in nuns' homes and convents. The second round of that investigation will start soon.
Fiedler, who in addition to her radio show, also wrote, "Breaking Through the Stained Glass Ceiling," is more blunt about what nuns fear from these investigations. She says nuns, who haven't lived in convents since the 1950's, will be forced to live that way again and be forced back into wearing a habit. They also fear Rome wants to silence them when they disagree with the Pope on issues like gays in the church and women's rights.
The fear, says Fiedler, "is they want to be able to control what nuns do…in every aspect of their lives."
The Vatican says that fear is "unfounded." And, it aims to prove it. Rome just appointed Father Joseph Tobin the number two official for religious life. He is well-liked and respected by many American nuns and hopes to calm the fears surrounding the investigations.
"Some of it," he says, "might be a very deep-seated misunderstanding. There is a need for dialogue and dialogue means that two parties are honestly conversing in search of the truth."
Truth is what Sister Marlene Weisenbeck wants, too. But, she adds, "There is no turning back. I don't think that happens in any living organism. God doesn't turn the creation in opposite directions."
In other words, there is no turning back the clock on American nuns.
Sound off: What do you think about the Vatican's investigation of American nuns?