October 2009: $1.1 million inquiry probes all aspects of sisters’ lives

(Published in the October 2009 edition of The Messenger of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia)

Sister Marcia Allen
Sister Marcia Allen
Phase II of the “apostolic visitation” of women’s religious orders in the United States arrived in late September, in the form of a massive in-depth questionnaire.

At the same time, sisters learned that the Vatican has budgeted $1.1 million for the inquiry, and has asked U.S. bishops to chip in to cover the cost.

The first section of the questionnaire delivered to leaders of congregations across the country 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 for 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 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.

The deadline for providing information to the “apostolic visitator,” Mother Clare Millea, is Nov. 20.

Sister Marcia Allen, president of our congregation, is beginning work on her responses.

“We have worked assiduously since our renewal to constantly adapt to the changing needs of the people we serve,” she said. “Our mission remains as it always has been: To live God’s love by serving our neighbor.”

Phase I of this comprehensive study — initiated in January by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, to examine “the quality of the life of women religious” in the U.S. — was a series of interviews with leaders of American congregations.

In late September, a letter from Cardinal Rodé to American bishops became public. In it, the cardinal asks each American bishop “for your help in offsetting the expenses” of the apostolic visitation.

According to the letter, the three-year projected budget for the inquiry is $1.1 million, and the “donations” should be sent directly to the cardinal’s office at the Vatican.

Cardinal Rodé was the one who appointed Mother Millea, Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as “visitator.”
She reported that by the end of July she had had “personal conversations with 127 superiors general” and had received letters from about 50 other congregational leaders. She met with Sister Marcia in Chicago on June 9.

There are nearly 400 apostolic religious congregations of women in the United States, with about 59,000 vowed sisters. (Communities of cloistered, contemplative nuns and some monasteries are not part of the study.)

Mother Millea was scheduled over the summer to be recruiting members of religious orders to help with on-site visits, which will be Phase III and was expected to begin in early 2010.

As of the end of September, the Sisters of St. Joseph had not received any information on those on-site team members.

Although there is no deadline for submitting a report to Cardinal Rodé, Mother Millea has said she hopes to complete the task by 2011.

That final report has been described as “comprehensive and confidential,” with information included on each of the congregations assessed.

One unanswered question, however, is how the information in the report might be used or if there could be action by the Vatican based on it.

When the Leadership Conference of Women Religious met in New Orleans in August, the group focused both on the opportunity offered by the visitation and some specific concerns with the way it is proceeding.

With about 800 leaders of American orders of Catholic sisters taking part in the LCWR assembly, they emphasized that they have remained faithful to the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council and remain committed to what they view as the unique and needed role of religious life.

At the same time, the leaders expressed concern about a lack of full disclosure about the motivation for both the apostolic visitation and a separate Vatican inquiry into the LCWR itself.

The leaders also object to the fact that their orders will not be permitted to see the investigative reports about them that are being submitted directly to the Vatican.

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