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Washington • A leader of the group of Catholic nuns facing a crackdown from the Vatican said Thursday that her members have no plans or desire to leave the church or reconstitute the group beyond Vatican control.

Sister Mary Hughes, who ended a three-year term as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious on Aug. 11, said there is little to no support to withdraw the LCWR from the faith, where it could avoid a Vatican-ordered makeover.

"It is the deep desire of the membership to stay within the church and not move away from it," Hughes said at a luncheon at the National Press Club. "We derive our strength from the sacramental life of the church."

The Vatican has accused the LCWR, which represents about 80 percent of the nation's 56,000 Catholic sisters, of embracing strains of "radical feminism" and focusing on social justice at the expense of abortion and same-sex marriage.

Hughes said her group is a leadership support group, not a "theological society."

"We don't see ourselves as a teaching arm of the church, nor is it our role to discuss church documents at our conferences," said Hughes, the prioress of the Sisters of St. Dominic in Amityville, N.Y.

When the LCWR met in St. Louis last week, the sisters said they wanted more dialogue with Rome, and Hughes said true dialogue is a two-way street. The sisters said they would reconsider their options if the LCWR "is forced to compromise the integrity of its mission." Hughes said it would be "premature" to speculate on the outcome of fresh talks between the LCWR and a panel of bishops headed by Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain.

Hughes said the nuns would resist any "effort to change us, to change the nature of who we are" by making them a mouthpiece for the bishops. The sisters, she said, are not interested in any attempts at "blind obedience" to the hierarchy.

"Real dialogue does not involve winners and losers; it's about a way in which we both get stretched," she said. "It's not defiance, it's wanting the church to be all that it can be. That prophetic voice will continue."