Six-year Vatican investigation ends in tone of ‘collaboration’  

December 16, 2014 by


In what was called “an encouraging and realistic tone throughout,” the final report of an unprecedented six-year Vatican investigation of nearly 350 groups of Catholic sisters in the U.S. was released this morning in a news conference in Rome.


The news conference panel included Sister Sharon Holland, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who said, “One can read the text (of the report) and feel appreciated and trusted to carry on.”

Also taking part in the news conference at the Vatican were Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz, head of the Vatican office that launched the Apostolic Visitation of American sisters in 2008, and its secretary, Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, as well as Mother Mary Clare Millea, who was appointed to conduct the investigation. In addition to Holland representing LWCR, Mother Agnes Donovan took part to represent the smaller U.S. umbrella group of sisters called the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.

Believed to be the largest such investigation in church history, the Apostolic Visitation began in 2008 with the approval of then-Pope Benedict XVI. The purpose, according to the Congregation for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life that commissioned it, was to study the “quality of life” among the 50,000 Catholic sisters in the United States.

Since Millea submitted her findings two years ago, both women religious and lay people have been awaiting release of the final report.

Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, watched the live broadcast of the news conference at 4:30 this morning.

Allen, who is also president elect of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, shared Holland’s positive tone.

“This definitely brought religious life for women into the forefront of the Church, and that is good,” she said. “The principals in Rome have changed (since the investigation began), and they sound different. The words they use now are ‘collaborate’ and ‘dialogue,’ which give us tools to be part of the conversation.”

Dividing the results of the investigation into 11 topic areas, the report acknowledges the decline in numbers of Catholic sisters over the past 50 years but says that “the very large numbers of religious in the 1960s was a relatively short-term phenomenon that was not typical of the experience of religious life through most of the nation’s history.”

As one result of the smaller numbers of sisters, the report acknowledges that many women’s communities are developing programs for lay people in order to carry on their work in an age of fewer vocations.

“This Congregation praises these creative ways of sharing the charismatic gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the Church and asks that the essential difference between the vowed religious and the dedicated lay persons who maintain a special relationship with the institute be respected and celebrated,” it states.

At the same time, the report notes that “candidates to apostolic religious life (today) tend to be older, more educated and more culturally diverse.”

Another consequence of smaller numbers, according to the report, is outlined in the “Financial Stewardship’ section.

“Women religious (have) been undercompensated for their ministry over an extended period of time,” it notes, and today there are “fewer sisters earning a salary or stipend. Elder religious serving as volunteers do not receive remuneration… (and) many sisters working with the poor and disenfranchised are wholly or partly subsidized by their congregations. Some sisters serving in (church) structures receive relatively low salaries or have lost their positions in the downsizing of the institutions they serve.”

Congregations of women religious, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, are self-supporting; they do not receive any financial support from the Church.

In another section, the report asks “religious institutes to evaluate their initial and ongoing formation programs,” to ensure that new members have a “solid theological, human, cultural, spiritual and pastoral preparation” for religious life.

Allen noted that the Sisters of St. Joseph already do that, through a “Federation Novitiate” that brings together candidates from numerous communities for a formal one-year program.

The Federation Novitiate will come to Concordia in August 2015, with an expected eight candidates and their program directors who will live and study at Manna House of Prayer for nine months.

“There is much in this report that recognizes what we have done and are doing,” Allen added. “We’ll need to study it, and discuss it more.”

Archbishop Carballo, in his statement during this morning’s news conference, said the final report on the visitation was “prepared in harmony and with the encouragement of Pope Francis,” adding, “We recognize with gratitude the apostolic work of women religious.”


PHOTO AT TOP: This is a screen shot from this morning’s news conference, broadcast live from the Vatican Press Center.









2 Responses to “Six-year Vatican investigation ends in tone of ‘collaboration’  ”

  1. Jodi Creten on December 17th, 2014 3:16 pm

    The past several years have been stressful for religious communities, but we have responded with grace and dignity and great respect for this marvelous religious life in which we live. I am grateful that the Vatican report respects all that we have been, are and will be. I am also extremely grateful to our many Congregational leaders who have so gracefully led by modeling the practice of dialogue that just may be extending to the male hierarchy. We are blessed in so many ways, and those blessings are given time and again.

  2. Faye Huelsmann on December 16th, 2014 10:53 am

    I am gratified at the way our religious congregations have responded to this investigation over the years. It seems the leadership style of women, perhaps, is catching on for the all male hierarchy. Now to pursue the next step regarding hierarchy!
    I thank our community for our part in this trying time and for Marcia’s leadership. And thank you to each and everyone of us.

Feel free to leave a comment...