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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Vatican's investigation of U.S. nuns 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."

Group to Connect Sisters

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: Her Web site is

For more information:

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

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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!