Vatican visitation of nuns in America

It was last summer, I remember, that a number of leaders of female religious communities were up in arms and squawking about a Vatican visitation of some sort, some Vatican representatives coming to the U.S. to see whether the communities were still Catholic.

Whatever happened with this?

My own mere 2 cents is that such a thing, conducted with prudence, is a reasonable thing to do on occasion for all religious communities. McDonald’s conducts audits of its franchisees to ensure brand consistency; a church has the same kind of need. Done judiciously, it’s no witch hunt, but might help with keeping the faith in the faithful.

One of the more recent things I’ve seen is this interview by John Allen with Archbishop Joseph Tobin after his appointment as Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. In the introduction to the interview it says “Announced in early 2009, the visitation is currently in “phase three”, meaning on-site visits to selected congregations. The aim is for reports to be delivered to the Vatican throughout 2011, marking the formal end of the process.” So there is still some time before the process is finished.

Some of the responses in the interview give a sense of how things are going.

Your office won’t be seeing any reports from the visitation until next year?

That’s right. Everything so far has been oral.

Is it therefore too early to talk about what the end-game might be?

Yes, although I can say that I would be very surprised if anybody would purport to give any punitive or overly prescriptive norms as a result of this visitation. If the visitors, in dialogue with the sisters, have identified some specific issues that need to be dealt with, okay. But forcing people into habits or something like that? That’s not what this is about.


**You don’t anticipate that the visitation is going to trigger an earthquake in women’s religious life in America?
No, I don’t. I think that would be really disrespectful of what women religious in America have accomplished. Anyway, earthquakes in religious life generally don’t work out very well. Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuits, for example, and in retrospect that wasn’t a very good idea!


Thanks. So far, the way the press has reported on this, leaders of some religious communities appear to be offended by the whole thing.

On Catholic Radio this morning, they said that the formal visits have ended and the head of the visits is going back to Rome to prepare the reports that are due out in October or so.
That is all I remember, sorry!

You remembered the most important parts and shared them with us. So, there is no reason to be sorry and reason for us to thank you. :slight_smile:

Here is a recent news article which explains more fully and provides a link to the official website for the visitation.

Yes. I don’t know much about it but I came into contact with some sisters last year at a meeting on the new missal. They were talking about it and you could tell that they were very offended. A lot of questions about money and possible inheritances etc etc.

I didn’t pay too close attention to what they had to say because of just how evident their bitterness was.

It would be great if a nun reading this were to note the “problem” here. Most large business and nonprofit organizations have what is essentially “quality control” and review procedures to ensure that they are producing/serving properly.

Why the desire for secrecy? Why be upset? Are nuns forming their own churches or are they in our church?

Large businesses have stockholders. They have to report to them and to the board of directors. Privately held companies answer to no one–as they have and handle their own money. Religious communities don’t have stockholders. Religious communities receive no money from Rome–if anything, they are expected to help support Rome. In addition to being investigated,* they were expected to pay for the investigation. There were asked, for example, to pay for the transportation of the visitors, some from Rome, pick them up at the airport, drive them around, and supply their room and board. Initially the visitation planned to inquire as to the financial management of the communities, but that was later abandoned. I am certain that the religious communities are very careful stewards and do report their financial management--to those who support them.* Probably they are reluctant to do so to those* who don’t support them.*

My understanding (which could be wrong) is that it wasnt so much communities of nuns that were the focus, but communities of sisters.

(Noting that there is a difference between being a nun and a sister. All nuns ARE sisters, but not all sisters are nuns. Important distinction).

The ladies I had come in contact with a year ago were sisters, but were not nuns.

I believe the visitation was only for religious groups of active sisters. Cloistered nuns were not included in the visitation.


Is there some generally accepted idea of why the visitation was initiated?

Again, my concern here is that to a layman outsider, Catholics want to be Catholic, and ensuring that various Catholic groups are Catholic groups is a good thing not a bad thing.

If you go to Burger King, you don’t want to find a Big Mac on your plate.

These things happen on occasion for the reason you state.

The seminaries in the United States had a visitation a couple of years ago. Now its the sisters turn.

It also did not help that some groups of sisters seem to have lost their orders charism and are starting to embrace environmentalism and eastern healing practices such as reki.

I know of one order and have a friend who is very fond of their retreat center. The more I hear about it the more I think, sounds nice, but it shouldn’t be labeled Catholic in nature. Sounds more leaning New Age. JMO.

This seems to be the official reason:

[quote=Apostolic Visitation FAQ]3. What has prompted this Visitation?

The Congregation for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life exercises oversight in relation to all religious institutes throughout the world. Like other vocations in the Church, religious life has passed through challenging times. The Congregation for Consecrated Life is aware that many new congregations have emerged in the United States while many others have decreased in membership or have an increased median age. Apostolic works have also changed significantly because of societal changes. These and other areas need to be better understood and assessed in order to safeguard and promote consecrated life in the United States.

In a press statement released on November 3, 2009, Cardinal Rodé indicated that for many years his dicastery “had been listening to concerns expressed by American Catholics – religious, laity, clergy and hierarchy – about the welfare of religious women and consecrated life in general, and had been considering an Apostolic Visitation as a means to assess and constructively address these concerns.” He expressed his hope that “the Apostolic Visitation will not only provide the Holy See with a thorough analysis of the condition of religious life in the United States, but also be a realistic and graced opportunity for personal and community introspection, as major superiors and sisters cooperate with this study.”

Yes, Reiki and environmentalism are well-known heresies.

Reiki I can understand, but environmentalism? Is there some kind of odd religious twist that some sisters have given the environmental movement? I would think promoting good stewardship of the Earth would be laudable rather than heretical.

The Vatican has struck a much more conciliatory note with the appointment of Redemptorist priest Archbishop Tobin to be the new secretary of Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, replacing Rode.

Here’s a copy of an interview with him in November, 2010.

While discerning with a community of sisters, I often heard sisters complain about the visitation. This one sister complained that “they should be investigating the priest (those with collars as some said) instead.” I told her that the seminaries already had their visitation and she scoffed. Many were upset that a “bunch of men” were just picking on them or trying to control them. Some women admitted to ignoring the questionnaires sent out by the apostolic visitator.

Promoting good stewardship would be good but some have let it go to far and it has split over into the new age. I encountered a group that spoke about “mother Gaia”.

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