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Vatican to probe health of American women's religious orders

February 02, 2009

The Vatican has announced an investigation into the life of women's religious orders in the US. The apostolic visitation will examine the health of women's religious orders, many of which have seen a precipitous decline in vocations over the past 40 years. A web site set up to explain the visitation acknowledges that "religious life has passed through challenging times."

During a visit to the US last year, Cardinal Franc Rodé, the prefect of the Congregation for Religious, delivered a blunt critique of American religious life to a conference at Stonehill College. The cardinal said that some orders of nuns seemed to have "simply acquiesced to the disappearance of religious life," while others had distanced themselves from the life of the Catholic Church.

Although the Vatican authorized the visitation in December 2008, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious-- the largest organization representing American nuns-- was not aware of the plans until shortly before the public announcement. That announcement, in turn, was made just before the annual World Day for Religious, which the Church observes on February 2. At his Sunday public audience Pope Benedict XVI asked for prayers for the many religious who will make or renew their vows on that day.

The apostolic visitation was announced soon after the Vatican released a final report on another visitation that had investigated American seminaries. Mother Mary Clare Millea, the superior general of the Superior of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus-- an order based in Rome, but with over 100 members in the US-- has been appointed to conduct the visitation and make a full report to the Vatican.


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