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Vatican receives report on investigation of US women's religious orders

January 10, 2012

The Vatican has received the final report from an apostolic visitation of women’s religious orders in the US.

Mother Mary Clare Millea, who was assigned by the Vatican to carry out the apostolic visitation, has submitted her findings to the Congregation for Religious. In a statement announcing the completion of her 3-year study, she said: “Although there are concerns in religious life that warrant support and attention, the enduring reality is one of fidelity, joy, and hope.”

The apostolic visitation was born in controversy. Cardinal Franc Rodé, then the prefect of the Congregation for Religious, said that an investigation of American women’s religious orders was needed because some orders had had “simply acquiesced to the disappearance of religious life or at least of their community,” while others “have opted for ways that take them outside communion with Christ in the Catholic Church.”

Early reports that the apostolic visitation would result in calls for a crackdown on dissident women’s religious orders produced a heavy backlash, with a number of prominent American women religious saying that religious orders should not cooperate with the Vatican probe. That resistance complicated the work of Mother Mary Clare Millea, who spent most of 2009 and 2010 gathering information from the American communities of women religious.

The tone of the Vatican inquiry changed significantly, however, when Archbishop Joseph Tobin was named secretary of the Congregation for Religious. The American archbishop quickly signaled his sympathies for the leaders of US religious orders. The Brazilian Archbishop João Braz de Aviz, who was named in January 2011 to replace Cardinal Rodé as prefect of the congregation, also distanced himself from his predecessor’s stand on the necessity for reform, saying that he the Congregation for Religious must “rebuild trust” among religious orders because of “some positions taken previously.” The new prefect said, echoing public statements by Archbishop Tobin, said that he did not expect dramatic changes as a result of the apostolic visitation.


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  • Posted by: - Jan. 11, 2012 12:13 PM ET USA

    I think it is morally wrong to put a 'happy face' on something that has been obviously systematically devastated and successfully destroyed.

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Jan. 10, 2012 6:20 PM ET USA

    Ever since "the Council" the bishops have been trying to talk themselves and the faithful into believing in the "new springtime" that has blossomed in its wake. It is maddening to watch because it seems so obvious that the Church is falling apart outside traditionalist leaning Orders, Fraternities etc and yet it's always the same old story. The Church has been destroyed from within, from the top down. We will get no clarity or reality until those at the top look it square in the face.

  • Posted by: Erik George - Jan. 10, 2012 5:57 PM ET USA

    I pray the report is not just a whitewash of the numerous problems affecting many "mature" religious orders of women. In the end, I fear, a lack of vocations to these orders will render any possible remedies moot. Truly sad. Just one more treasure of our Catholic patrimony obliterated in the Council's aftermath - to the detriment of many souls.

  • Posted by: Jbernardcraig8251 - Jan. 10, 2012 5:54 PM ET USA

    If we look at the demographics of Catholic sisters in the USA, the future belongs to the young, orthodox communities of women who are echoing the JPII seminarians of today. The future is bright. Let the past experience its inevitable demise peacefully, recognizing that some contributed faithfully to the church along the way while others wandered. The future is very bright

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Jan. 10, 2012 4:34 PM ET USA

    Another cave in because of pressure? That's seems to be a continuing theme these days in the Church. It's been said before: the crisis is a crisis of bishops. Sounds like this report is in fact DOA. So what was the point of the visitation? The emperor has no clothes but it's a climate of fidelity, joy, and hope! Sounds like an Obama speech.

  • Posted by: normnuke - Jan. 10, 2012 4:00 PM ET USA

    After 3 years of study the final report must be wonderfully packed with facts, facts which support the conclusion that the 'enduring reality is one of fidelity, joy, and hope'. Yup.