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Vatican official rues tone of apostolic visitation of religious: ‘they keep people afraid’

August 11, 2011

Archbishop Joseph Tobin, the secretary of the Congregation for Religious is offering strong criticism of the atmosphere surrounding the Vatican’s apostolic visitation of institutes of women religious in the United States.

The comments by Archbishop Tobin reinforce the perception that the Vatican investigation, which was once seen as a serious challenge to the policies and directions of some American religious orders, is now unlikely to call for major changes.

Cardinal Franc Rodé, then prefect of the congregation, announced in 2009 that the apostolic visitation would “assess and constructively address” concerns about the welfare of active women’s religious communities in the United States. Archbishop Tobin was named secretary of the congregation in August 2010, and Archbishop João Bráz de Aviz was appointed prefect in January 2011 upon Cardinal Rodé’s retirement.

Since his appointment, Archbishop Tobin has clearly signaled his sympathies for American women's religious leaders. He underlined that stand in his latest comments to the Catholic News Service.

“I believe a visitation has to have a dialogical aspect, but the way this was structured at the beginning didn't really favor that,” the archbishop said. “Part of the real harm done at the beginning,” he said, was Cardinal Rodé’s decision that individual communities would not have the opportunity to read the reports that visitors were to submit to the Vatican.

The archbishop suggested that American women religious who help govern their communities in Rome should assist the Congregation in evaluating the visitation reports on individual communities. That suggestion could lead to a new conflict, however. Individual women religious were permitted to speak with apostolic visitors in confidence, on the assumption that any critical comments would not be read by their superiors or other community members. If that confidentiality is now put aside, nuns who were critical of their overall direction of their communities may find themselves in an uncomfortable position.

Archbishop Tobin indicated that he was sympathetic toward the leaders of women's religious communities who felt that they were being accused of a lack of orthodoxy or obedience to the Church. He said that the Vatican is now working to restore their confidence.

“The trust that should characterize the daughters and sons of God and disciples of Jesus isn’t recovered overnight,” Archbishop Tobin added. “I think women religious have a right to say, ‘Well, let’s see.’”

Archbishop Tobin directed his most pointed criticism towards “canonical advisors” who “exploited” rumors that some communities might be dissolved or be given new leadership.

“It’s like Fox News: they keep people coming back because they keep them afraid,” he said. “But certainly, on our side of the river or our side of the pond, we had created an atmosphere where that was possible.”


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  • Posted by: - Aug. 13, 2011 4:09 PM ET USA

    Vatican visitations as Bishop Tobin stated, should involve a respectful, two-way communication process with just treatment as the main aim for the recipients of such a process. But it seems that the relevant Vatican department has stepped back from implementing any concrete strategies which would arrest the continued numerical decline of once thriving US congregations with their respective loss of radical obedience and adherence to Church teachings. One only hopes that this is not the case.

  • Posted by: wsw33410 - Aug. 12, 2011 12:55 PM ET USA

    why don't we all write or call the Congregation of Religious, and let the know how we feel about them. Pertinent telephone numbers are: Prefect +39. 06. 69884121 --- Archbishop João Bráz de Aviz Secretary +39. 06. 69884584 --- Archbishop Joseph Tobin receptionists +39 06. 69884128 and +39. 06. 69892511 FAX +39. 06. 69884526 E-mail: [email protected] (Prefect) [email protected] (Secretary)

  • Posted by: - Aug. 12, 2011 10:16 AM ET USA

    Some matters can only be solved by a funeral. The plaid shirts and butch hair cuts have no appeal to those seeking a life dedicated to serving God. Soon, soon, the problem will go away by diminished numbers.

  • Posted by: sparch - Aug. 12, 2011 9:49 AM ET USA

    What was the purpose of the visitations if not to honestly evaluate the communitties? So now they will water down their evaluations? So those who came forward to privatly express their concerns will be put in a position to be vilified? This turns on it's head the very reasons they conducted the visitations in the first place.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 12, 2011 8:52 AM ET USA

    So, it will be another white wash of the type that lead to the scandal? (When seminaries were "investigated"?) Evil is not a misunderstanding.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 11, 2011 7:45 PM ET USA

    The veil slips to reveal what was only suspected hitherto.

  • Posted by: lauriem5377 - Aug. 11, 2011 7:41 PM ET USA

    I'm a little put off with the disparaging remark about FOX NEWS. That said,however,whether it is dissident clergy or dissident religious, the Vatican needs to assure those using the title Catholic adhere strictly to the Word. I don't think the church hierarchy understands the serious damage to the laity by letting clergy and religious and Catholic public figures simply disregard the Word of God without swift public correction.

  • Posted by: Cincinnatus - Aug. 11, 2011 6:29 PM ET USA

    So the Archbishop takes a gratuitous potshot at Fox News? How pastoral! I'll bet that many of the people, neither fools nor knaves, who regard Fox News as a worthwhile and reliable source of information will wonder, in the light of his arguably partisan, but clearly bumptious and inapposite, choice of bugbears how effective he can be in restoring the "trust that should characterize the daughters and sons of God and disciples of Jesus." The religious say, "Well, let's see." I say: Amen, Sisters!

  • Posted by: phineas - Aug. 11, 2011 6:29 PM ET USA

    Sir Paul Stephenson, Commissioner of Police in London, said the visitation by New York City's chief of police in the wake of the ubiquitous riots raging within several English cities, expressed concern that "they (the young rioters) were being accused of a lack of civility or obedience to law and order." He went on to caution that "it must be the mission of any visiting team to make our young people feel good about themselves, to affirm, and to avoid name-calling and passing judgement."

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Aug. 11, 2011 6:15 PM ET USA

    Yet the Legionnaires continue to exist despite some of their superiors' adoration of their perverted founder.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 11, 2011 5:59 PM ET USA

    I wonder which canonical advisors Bp. Tobin is faulting. Did canonical advisors urge religious-order leaders to avoid cooperating with the study, to reduce their risk of removal? Maybe they served leaders' personal interests rather than the interests of the whole community. On another note: does Bp. Tobin really think in political stereotypes, or is he just using that lingo to appeal to left-wing religious?

  • Posted by: Defender - Aug. 11, 2011 3:33 PM ET USA

    So we are to continue with religious who think enneagrams are some sort of mystical link to God, ignore mandatums and write books that even the USCCB takes issue with, etc? No wonder so many left after Vatican II!

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Aug. 11, 2011 12:01 PM ET USA

    Does Bishop Tobin not fear the judgment of God? I know that many religious men and women no longer do.

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Aug. 11, 2011 10:06 AM ET USA

    The remark about Fox News tells you where the bishop is coming from. Religous life has been in trouble since the end of the Council. The investigation is probably really too late and many orders are moribund hoisted on their own petards:inventing a religious life apart from the mind of the Church. Just because there was weeping and gnashing of teeth from the usual suspects should not dissuade this bishop from doing his duty. He should've given an example of Fox News "fear."

  • Posted by: - Aug. 11, 2011 10:00 AM ET USA

    Fox News? Oh, how absurd. Archbishop Tobin seems to be returning to the fatuous 'happy talk' that glossed over or simply ignored outright the serious doctrinal problems within these orders for decades, allowing them to grow into the luxurious weeds they've become.