Update on American Religious Life Visitation

Reports are scheduled to be sent to the Vatican by the end of the year.

Nuns wave Vatican flags as they cheer prior to Pope Benedict XVI's general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican recently.
Nuns wave Vatican flags as they cheer prior to Pope Benedict XVI's general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican recently. (photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — More than 400 reports on the status of U.S.-based religious congregations of women will be sent to the Vatican by the end of the year by the apostolic visitator overseeing a years-long study of American religious life.

Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the apostolic visitator appointed by the Vatican, told Catholic News Service she started compiling the reports in September with the goal of completing them by Dec. 31.

The reports — the fourth and final step in the visitation process — will summarize information obtained from multiple sources, including the 90 onsite visits to religious communities that concluded in December, she said.

Mother Clare also planned to send a separate report offering an overview of U.S. religious life to the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and its retired prefect, Cardinal Franc Rode.

Some of the 405 reports will include comments from individual members of religious congregations who offered observations and comments outside of the official visits, Mother Clare said.

“We got some,” she said when asked how many individual responses were received.

“Some were very interesting,” Mother Clare added, declining to elaborate.

Responses from a questionnaire sent to the congregations in late 2009 as well as information Mother Clare obtained in earlier discussions and correspondence with superiors of religious communities also will be included in the reports.

The visitation was initiated in January 2009 by Cardinal Rode to learn why the number of members in religious communities of women in the U.S. had declined since the late 1960s. The visitation also was to examine the quality of life in the communities for some 67,000 religious women.

Under Cardinal Rode’s guidelines, the report when submitted was not to be shared with the religious communities.

The Church investigation initially sparked questions from some congregational leaders, who said that Cardinal Rode’s announcement came without warning and seemed to imply that the congregations were doing something wrong. Some congregations also were slow to respond to the visitation questionnaire, leading Mother Clare to
resend letters encouraging their participation in the process.

Mother Clare said she has spent much of her time since September working on the reports in Hamden, Conn., where the U.S. province of her congregation is based, making occasional trips to Rome to handle her responsibilities as head of her order.

“Hopefully, by the end of summer, I will have the majority of the reports done,” she said.

“It’s been an enriching experience to see the variety of charisms, the ways different communities live the same values regarding religious life and vows and also the beautiful ministries that are done by sisters throughout the country and beyond,” she said.

In March, the apostolic visitation office gathered the dozens of religious who visited the congregations in Hamden for a three-day meeting to review their work. The meeting offered the visitors the chance to share their impressions of the onsite visits and their observations of some of the common challenges and hopes U.S. religious communities face.

American-born Archbishop Joseph Tobin, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, addressed the gathering.

“My own team and the visitors were very much encouraged by the great sensitivity and the listening by Bishop Tobin and the assurance that he would be taking to heart and working with the members dicastery to see that the Holy See will do whatever they can to help with the revitalization of our congregations,” Mother Clare said.

Meanwhile, a team from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious recently met with officials of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and learned “there were no new concerns” with the organization, said Sister Annmarie Sanders, LCWR’s director of communications.

The news was received during the team’s annual visit to the Vatican April 27-May 4, said Sister Annmarie, a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

LCWR, whose members represent 95% of women religious in the U.S., was the subject of a doctrinal assessment ordered by U.S. Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the doctrine of the faith congregation, in April 2009. Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, a member of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, completed the assessment in July.

More information about the apostolic visitation can be found online at www.apostolicvisitation.org.

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