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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Nuns on the Bus: A Blatant Whitewash

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In my article Nuns on the Bus, Vatican II and the Decline of Women Religious; (Nov. 30 -Dec. 15) I mentioned that in mid-December, the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life would issue a summary of its findings regarding a Vatican inquiry into various aspects of "Women Religious" throughout the United States. I was skeptical about what the report would eventually say, and I wrote: "But will the Vatican....fess up to their responsibility as shepherds to their flocks? If what I suspect will be the tenor and tone of the press conference on the 16th, I doubt it." Was my pessimistic prophecy accurate?


On December 16th, theFinal Report on the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States of America was released by the Vatican, and a press conference was held to explain what had been achieved. From the outset of the report, the "tenor and tone" of the findings were apparent when Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the Congregation’s Prefect, declared: "We are aware that the Apostolic Visitation was met with apprehension by some women religious as well as the decision, on the part of some institutes, not to collaborate fully in the process. (Emphasis mine.) While this was a painful disappointment for us, we use this present opportunity to express our willingness to engage in respectful and fruitful dialogue with those institutes which were not fully compliant with the Visitation process.” One has to wonder what "not fully compliant" signifies, and on what basis can there be non-compliance by Sisters Religious to an Apostolic Visitation?

Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, the Congregation’s Secretary, said at the press conference that 78% of superiors general “voluntarily engaged in personal dialogue with the Visitator.” Translation: nearly one-quarter of Women Religious did not. Allegedly, one head of the 341 Institutes of the Women Religious that were visited is quoted as saying that the Sisters under her charge would meet the Apostolic Visitors in their living room, but that was as far as they would get. Perhaps a better description of "non-compliance" would be "open hostility."

At the Vatican press conference, the heads of both the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which was critical of the Apostolic Visitation, and the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious, whose members emphasize fidelity to the Magisterium, spoke. Sister Sharon Holland, president of the LCWR, who had claimed earlier that the visit by the Vatican's representatives was "troubling," said that “today we are looking at an affirmative and realistic report ...." I doubt she was disappointed. Sister Agnes Mary Donovan, the coordinator of the Conference of Major Superiors of Women Religious, claimed that within its 125 (of the 341)  communities, "the average age of sisters is 53 years -- well below the overall trend.”  The one clearly positive aspect of the whole report.

The first report on this story appeared in The Remnant newspaper back in November. Subscribe today and get six months' worth of online Remnant archives!

As night follows day, the rest of the report would fall into place: the Vatican would backtrack and express its “profound gratitude” for the “dedicated and selfless service of women religious” (even the non-compliant?), but there would be no direct criticism of the LCWR, unless the statement in the report that the decision of some institutes not to adopt the wearing of a habit is a barrier to religious vocations could be so considered. A question might even arise as to the meaning of sentences such as: “This Congregation asks the members of each institute to evaluate their actual practice of liturgical and common prayer,” or “We ask them to discern what measures need to be taken to further foster the sisters’ intimate relationship with Christ and a healthy communal spirituality based on the Church’s sacramental life and sacred Scripture,” but open questioning of the modus operandi of the LCWR was not to be even remotely considered. Hence, the appeal to, "all religious institutes to carefully review their spiritual practices and ministry to assure that these are in harmony with Catholic teaching about God, creation, the Incarnation and the Redemption,” was in the case of the LCWR, to quote the Bard, "full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

While this report did not address the doctrinal and dogmatic disasters that now attend LCWR gatherings and quotidian affairs, a study that was begun by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) years ago, there is nothing in the current report that even alludes to such errant behavior. Although irrational, support for the LCWR's actions were seen on the day of the press conference when The Nun Justice Project, a coalition of Catholic groups organized to defend the sisters, called the visitation process “demeaning and a huge waste of time” that diverted the sisters from their vital work. Apparently, the coalition's organizers believe Sisters Religious really are, fundamentally, social workers.

After digesting the findings of this report, there still remained one unexamined aspect of the situation that The Remnant readers might find of interest. In the midst of all of these Apostolic Visitations and final reports, how did Pope Francis, who was not on the Throne of Peter when the process began, react? Unless the procedure has changed, Vatican policy is that all such reports are brought to the pontiff's attention before they go public. And indeed it was, for Pope Francis met a delegation of American nuns the morning of the press conference. The outcome: the pope promised to appoint more women to decision-making roles in the Vatican. 

I am quite sure that varied criticism and even praise of the final report will be forthcoming in the days to come; however, I can sum up in one word the entire description ofFinal Report on the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States of America : whitewash. 

Vincent Chiarello | Remnant Columnist

Born on the Day of St. Patrick in 1937 in Brooklyn, N.Y., he was a high school history teacher until 1970, when he entered the U.S. Foreign Service. His overseas assignments included U.S. embassies in Colombia, Guatemala, Spain, Norway and Italy; his last assignment was to the U.S. Embassy to The Holy See. He is married to Cynthia (nee Goldsmith) and has three children. They attend a Traditional Latin Mass in Northern Virginia.