Saturday, August 22, 2009

More on the Apostolic Visitation and the "special" CDF visit to LCWR

A couple of additional useful articles this week -- or, rather, one article and a critique of the Vatican's ongoing investigations into the activities of American women religious orders and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

1. Sisters at the crossroads: Anna Arco, in the British publication Catholic Herald, does an excellent job of trying to get to the root of why people believe this investigation was launched in the first place. Arco takes it all the way back to the conflicts between the LCWR and the separate Council for Major Superiors of Women Religious dating to the 1970s and also highlights the major historical conflicts between LCWR and the Vatican, all of which, the article implies, paved the way for the current scrutiny.

2. Why they stay(ed)— Women religious and the apostolic visitation: Meanwhile, Sr. Sandra Schneiders, a member of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Mich., professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology and author of several books on religious life after Vatican II, looks at the state of consecrated religious life in America and offers a critical assessment of the apostolic visitation in an article in National Catholic Reporter this week. Speculating about the purpose of the visitation, Schneiders says:


The motivation for the visitation remains very vague. Perhaps the most commonly voiced hypothesis of both lay and religious, is that the purpose of the investigation is to ascertain the size and status of the financial assets of religious orders of women in order to enable the U.S. bishops to take possession of those assets to pay their legal debts. Even if there is no validity to this hypothesis (and I dearly hope there is not) it is distressing that Catholics' confidence in their hierarchy has been so eroded that they suspect their bishops of wishing to further impoverish religious orders struggling to support their elderly and infirm members. Another frequently voiced hypothesis, with perhaps more credibility, is that Cardinal Franc Rodé, the head of Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, wants to mandate for all women religious a return to pre-conciliar lifestyles akin to those in his eastern European homeland under Communism. Again, the suspicion is not without some basis in remarks the cardinal has made publicly, but there is no proof of such an intention and, in any case, such a move would surely occasion far more trouble than the Vatican probably wants to deal with.

The only "purpose" stated in the official documents is "to look into the quality of the life of women religious in the United States who are members of apostolic religious institutes." At several junctures Cardinal Rodé, who initiated the investigation, has suggested that his concern is about the "decline in numbers" of religious in these orders. There seems to be an implied "cause and effect" relation between these two concerns, namely, that the decline in numbers is somehow due to the poor quality of the life of religious. It is time to address this implication with some facts.

It is true that the numbers of U.S. women religious declined precipitously, by tens of thousands, from the highpoint (at least 120,000) in the mid-sixties to something around 60,000 today. This was due principally to two factors, not identical, namely, the sharp drop-off in numbers entering religious life and a major exodus of professed religious from the life. These phenomena were largely simultaneous which leads many people to fail to distinguish between them...

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