By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY — A massive, detailed Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. communities of women religious ended with a call to the women themselves to continue discerning how best to live the Gospel in fidelity to their orders’ founding ideals while facing steeply declining numbers and a rapidly aging membership.
Although initially seen by many religious and lay Catholics as a punitive measure, the apostolic visitation concluded with the publication Dec. 16 of a 5,000-word final report summarizing the problems and challenges the women themselves see in their communities and thanking them for their service to the church and to society, especially the poor.
The visitation process, carried out between 2009 and 2012 with detailed questionnaires and on-site visits, mainly by other women religious, “sought to convey the caring support of the church in respectful, sister-to-sister dialogue,” says the final report by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
File photo of Pope Francis with Archbishop Rodriguez Carballo and Cardinal Braz de Aviz (L’Osservatore Romano)
The process attempted to help the Vatican “and the sisters themselves to be more cognizant of their current situation and challenges in order to formulate realistic, effective plans for the future,” said the report, signed by Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the congregation for religious, and Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, secretary.
In summarizing the results, the congregation called for special attention in several areas, including: formation programs for new members; the personal, liturgical and common prayer life of members; ensuring their spiritual practices and ministries are fully in harmony with church teaching “about God, creation, the Incarnation and redemption” in Christ; strengthening community life, especially for members living on their own or with just one other sister; living their vow of poverty while wisely administering financial resources; and strengthening communion within the church, especially with the bishops and Vatican officials.
The Vatican, the report says, “is well aware that the apostolic visitation was met with apprehension and suspicion by some women religious. This resulted in a refusal, on the part of some institutes, to collaborate fully in the process.”
“While the lack of full cooperation was a painful disappointment for us,” the congregation writes, “we use this present opportunity to invite all religious institutes to accept our willingness to engage in respectful and fruitful dialogue with them.”
“A number of sisters conveyed to the apostolic visitator a desire for greater recognition and support of the contribution of (Read More)