By Claire Bushey
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.
However, the comparatively conservative Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which is based in Washington, D.C., is complying. And the visitation does have some supporters.
"Things have gotten to the point now that many of the women's orders are not following church guidelines for religious orders," said Ann Carey, author of the 1997 book "Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women's Religious Communities" and the moderator of a Yahoo discussion group for nuns who support the investigation. Carey says the people who've joined the group worry that "their leadership is moving away from the church."
Those who favor the investigation say members of the leadership conference do not speak for all the nuns within their orders. They argue that conservative nuns are marooned within the ranks of more liberal religious women. Carey said she started the Yahoo discussion group in December to connect these sisters with each other. As of late January, the group had 101 members.
Several conservative nuns also spoke at a symposium held in 2008 at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, a gathering that Rode later said was influential in his decision to launch the investigation.
The social upheavals of the 1960s made the decade "exactly the wrong time for the (Vatican II) Council to have occurred," said Sister Elizabeth McDonough, who teaches canon law at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, in a paper delivered at the symposium.
Sister Sara Butler, a professor of dogmatic theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., said U.S. religious life has been split over church hierarchy's authority. "On the one hand, there are the 'conservatives' who accept the church's hierarchical structure, teaching authority and jurisdiction," she said in a paper also presented at the symposium. "On the other hand, there are 'liberals' (or perhaps, 'radicals') who distinguish between the church as 'the People of God' (whom they profess to love) and the 'institutional church' (from which they feel alienated)."
Later in her presentation she asked, "Is it time, perhaps, for a formal 'visitation?'" She didn't grant an interview to say whether she supports the investigation.
The investigation is scheduled to conclude in 2011 with Mother Mary Clare Millea making a report to Rode's council on the status of the country's religious orders and her recommendations.
How the results will affect the lives of U.S. nuns is anyone's guess.
"That's the $64,000 question," Carey said.
Claire Bushey is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She writes about workers rights at Hard Labor, found here: http://www.trueslant.com/clairebushey. Her Web site is http://www.clairebushey.com.
Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States
Stories About the Apostolic Visitations of U.S. Women Religious, National Catholic Reporter
2008 Stonehill College Symposium on Apostolic Religious Life papers
Sisters Supporting Apostolic Visitation Yahoo group