Nov. 23, 2009: History, and the here & now

November 23, 2009 by

This synopsis was prepared by the Leadership Council for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and our family and friends, to address questions you may have about the “apostolic visitation.”

For many American Catholic sisters, 2009 may very well be called “the year of the apostolic visitation.”

As we near the end of the year, we want to recap what this has meant to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and let our family and friends know where we stand now. This is a very brief outline; links to more detailed information from throughout the past months may be found at the bottom of the next page.

EVENTS THIS YEAR

➣ In January 2009 we learned that the Vatican had begun an “apostolic visitation,” or comprehensive study, of women’s religious orders in the United States. The action was initiated by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The announcement said the visitation would examine “the quality of the life of women religious” in the U.S.

➣ Appointed as “visitator” was Mother Clare Millea, a Connecticut native who is Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an international religious institute headquartered in Rome.

➣ The visitation applies to the nearly 400 apostolic religious congregations of women in the United States, which include about 59,000 vowed sisters. (Communities of cloistered, contemplative nuns and monasteries are not part of the study, unless they do apostolic work.)

➣ In the spring, Mother Millea interviewed the heads of more than 125 American orders, including an in-person interview with Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, in Chicago on June 9. Another 50 or so congregations responded by letter to this first phase of the visitation.

➣ Mother Millea also began soliciting volunteers to form teams for on-site visits to selected congregations. In a letter dated May 19 and sent to orders’ leaders, she asked each to give her up to three names of sisters or members of other religious orders to serve on the team. Mother Millea’s letter noted that those who take part in the work “will be acting in the name of the Apostolic See” and for this reason “they must be willing to make a public profession of faith and take an oath of fidelity to the Apostolic See.”

➣ During the summer, the congregation received the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or working document of the visitation. The Sisters of St. Joseph ensured that all sisters received copies.

➣ Phase II of the visitation began in late September, with the arrival of an in-depth questionnaire.

The first section of the questionnaire delivered to leaders of congregations across the coun¬try requires 36 detailed answers that “quantify” membership in women’s religious orders — everything from how many vowed members, when each entered the congregation and her age at the time, to specifics on any facility that provides care to infirm sisters.

The second section is made up of more than 80 essay questions, ranging from some that are simple to answer (“Are your superiors elected or appointed?”) to many others that combine canonial and lay language and require theological and philosophical responses (“What are your hopes and concerns about the future of your religious institute in living its charism in the Church?” or “Describe your sisters’ commitment to praying with the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, to the practice of Marian devotion, and to communal and personal prayer.”)

The third section requires that each congregation provide copies of a wide range of documents, including its constitution, a list of all properties owned by the congregation and financial statements and cash flow reports. In mid November, however, Mother Millea changed the directions; she wrote:

“I have determined that documents number 5, 6, and 7, requested in Part C of the Questionnaire, are not to be submitted … The documents not to be sent to the Apostolic Visitation Office include:
5. A list of each sister, year of birth, address and type of ministry (full time/part time)
6. A list of properties owned and/or (co)sponsored by your unit.
7. A complete copy of the most recent independent audit of your religious unit or your last internal financial statement if an external audit has not been made. This should include a statement of financial position, statement of activity, statement of changes in net assets and statement of cash flows.

WHERE WE ARE NOW

➣ We are taking the apostolic visitation very seriously.

➣ We recognize that the results of the visitation may have a significant impact on women religious in the United States, now and into the future.

➣ We are a “pontifical institute,” approved directly by the Vatican. As called for by the Second Vatican Council, we began a “renewal chapter” in 1969; ultimately, that led to a new constitution based on our original mission from our origins in 17th century France. That constitution, which remains our living document today, was approved by the Vatican in 1987.

➣ An apostolic visitation means an official investigation by the Vatican — a “canonical document of inquiry” is the legal term. The Resource Center for Religious Institutes noted in March 2009 that an “apostolic visitation is not merely a ‘friendly visit’ (as the terms ‘visit’ and ‘questionnaire’ imply). While it may be framed within the context of a pastoral or paternal visit … it is being conducted because of a perceived need to correct or amend.”

➣ The legal term for that “need to correct or amend” is “cause,” and there has been no stated “cause” for this visitation. While that sounds benign — and some might argue that the “cause” is to consider the quality of life of American women religious, as stated by Cardinal Rodé and Mother Millea — “cause” has a specific meaning in the law: a charge that will be resolved in a court.

(As an example, in 2004 — in the wake of continuing sex abuse charges against numerous American priests — the “instrumentum laboris” for the apostolic visitation of American seminaries, said, “Special attention will also be given to the criteria for admission of candidates, and to the programs of human and spiritual formation aimed at ensuring that they can faithfully live chastity for the Kingdom.”)

➣ Because there is no stated “cause” for the canonical inquiry of apostolic communities of women, the reasons behind the visitation remain unclear.

➣ We are committed to live our lives as consecrated religious within the Catholic Church, according to Gospel values and the Catholic faith, as described in our Constitution.

➣ Just as we have since arriving in Kansas in 1883, we continue to love God and the dear neighbor without distinction. Today Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia serve missions in nearly 20 cities and towns in Kansas, plus others in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas and Brazil.

TO LEARN MORE

➣ The official web site for the Apostolic Visitation is www.apostolicvisitation.org

➣ Both the Catholic News Service and National Catholic Reporter have provided continuing coverage throughout the year. Search either of those sites for the word visitation. www.catholicnews.com and www.ncronline.org

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