Vatican Probe of U.S. Nuns Moves Quietly Forward

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Vatican's investigation of U.S. nuns is expected to be completed in 2011. Many think the probe amounts to an examination of the initiatives of the 1960s that revolutionized the life of nuns, allowing many to leave convents and pursue careers.

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Ann Carey(WOMENSENEWS)--The Vatican's investigation of American nuns enters its second year, with few nuns willing to openly discuss what they think about it.

Numerous requests for interviews by Women's eNews were declined, both by nuns who oppose the investigation and those who support it.

But if the Catholic press is any guide, most leaders of religious orders are opposed to the investigation that a church authority in Rome has said concerns irregularities or omissions in American religious life.

In November, Cardinal Franc Rode, head of the Vatican's council on religious life, told Vatican Radio what prompted the probe. "Most of all, you could say, it involves a certain secular mentality that has spread in these religious families and, perhaps, also a certain 'feminist' spirit."

Many Catholics take comments like that to mean that the process is meant to examine how religious orders have interpreted Vatican II, the prominent church council convened by Pope John XXIII in the 1960s that revolutionized the modern church.

After Vatican II, many nuns stopped wearing habits, left convents to live independently and pursued careers in academia and social work to the exclusion of their traditional work in the church's hospitals and schools.

In the decades that have followed, some nuns have replaced the traditional daily prayers, known as the breviary, with one that mentions more women. Some have opposed the church hierarchy's teachings on controversial issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and women's ordination.

The Vatican's three-part investigation involves interviews with the heads of the religious orders, a questionnaire that covers many aspects of an order's religious life and on-site visits at certain orders.

Connecticut native Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, heads the operation. Though the order's leadership council is headquartered in Rome, it has branches in 12 countries.

Loaded and Open Question

There are 59,000 nuns in the United States, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, one of the main sources of statistical information on Catholic life. The Leadership Conference for Women Religious represents between 85 percent and 90 percent of them.

How many oppose the investigation?

With both sides of the investigation wanting to say they speak for the majority of American nuns, that's a loaded and open question.

The Center for Applied Research's executive director, Sister Mary Bendyna, said the center had not surveyed nuns on their attitudes toward the visitation.

Accounts in the religious press suggest the majority of the 1,500 leaders of the 330 orders that compose the leadership conference have not complied with the Vatican's requests for information.

"We cannot, of course, keep them from investigating," wrote Sister Sandra Schneiders in a private e-mail, which later became widely circulated when published by the National Catholic Reporter. Schneiders is a professor at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, Calif. "But we can receive them, politely and kindly, for what they are, uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house."

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Talking about religion, we have to consider holidays in it.Somebody will have the luck from the Irish in Oregon - the St. Patrick's Day Oregon Lottery raffle has a $1 million winner. That's at least one person who won't need any no fax

There is an essential question that perhaps should be asked, and which is part of the Vatican's questioning, (the following are my words, not those of the catholic church) "What constitutes religious life, and what boundaries suggest that one is not living the life of a true religious priest, monk, or nun?" What the Vatican may not be questioning, is whether the traditional idea of monks and nuns may itself have problems for understanding the boundary between facing evil and overcoming it, instead of secluding groups away from secular temptations and away from being able to respond to needs for help from 'lost' souls and calling that holy, rather than, perhaps, enabling the religious to walk among the secular without a special costume, live as one among us all, as beacons and helps in matters of conscience, of God, of "faith (love), hope, and charity". Convents were traditionally as much a way to enable girls and women release and protection from rough and cruel lives. Monasteries may have been the same. Both often were the only source of education, when a family had a child who desperately wanted schooling and a life of scholarly pursuit, or who were holy and could not live accepted as such outside the walls of a convent or monastery. These issues do not apply to the USA today, but, the need for religious people among us is needed in today's secular society. Did not Christ walk among everyone, priests, wealthy, and the most humble alike? It is appropriate for the Vatican to see for itself if this has changed the religiosity of the nuns. Are they also investigating monks who are more secular?
Good for womensenews for covering this and in such a thoughtful way!