A nun looks on as Pope Benedict XVI leads a ceremony commemorating Christ's gesture of humility toward his apostles on the night before he died at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome April 5, 2012. Pope Benedict on Thursday re-stated the Roman Catholic Church's ban on women priests and warned that he would not tolerate disobedience by clerics on fundamental teachings. (ALESSANDRO BIANCHI/REUTERS)

A prominent U.S. Catholic nuns group said Thursday that it was “stunned” that the Vatican reprimanded it for spending too much time on poverty and social-justice concerns and not enough on condemning abortion and gay marriage.

In a stinging report on Wednesday, the Vatican said the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had been “silent on the right to life” and had failed to make the “Biblical view of family life and human sexuality” a central plank in its agenda.

It also reprimanded American nuns for expressing positions on political issues that differed, at times, from views held by U.S. bishops. Public disagreement with the bishops — “who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals” — is unacceptable, the report said.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a “doctrinal assessment” saying the Holy See was compelled to intervene with the leadership conference to correct “serious doctrinal problems.”

The nuns group said in a statement on its Web site: “The presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment.”

It added the group may give a lengthier response at a later date.

The conference, whose headquarters is in Silver Spring, said its members represented 80 percent of the country’s 57,000 Catholic nuns.

Academics who study the church said the Vatican’s move was predictable given Pope Benedict XVI’s conservative views and efforts by Rome to quell internal dissent and curtail autonomy within its ranks.

“This is more an expression of the church feeling under siege by trends it cannot control within the church, much less within the broader society,” University of Notre Dame historian Scott Appleby said.

Those trends include a steady drumbeat of calls to ordain women as priests. The pope has repeated his predecessors’ teaching that such a move is not possible.

The Vatican named Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain and two other U.S. bishops to undertake the reforms of the conference’s statutes, programs and its application of liturgical texts, a process it said could take up to five years.

— Reuters