Vatican affirms vital role of U.S. sisters in evangelisation
(Vatican Radio) Six years after the Vatican’s Congregation for religious life ordered an investigation or ‘Apostolic Visitation’ of all female religious institutes in the United States, the Holy See on Tuesday released its final report, reaffirming the vital role that sisters play in evangelisation within the wider Church.
At a press conference that was streamed live online, American Sr Mary Clare Millea, charged with organising the visitation, shared her positive impressions of the report, alongside the heads of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. Also taking part were the president and secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for religious, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz and Archbishop José Rodriquez Carballo.
Philippa Hitchen reports…
Altogether some 50.000 sisters, belonging to 341 religious institutes were involved in the four-phase investigation, which the report notes, was initially met with “apprehension and suspicion” on the part of many religious. Some refused to cooperate fully with Sr Mary Clare and her team, but the vast majority, she said, came to see this unprecedented operation as a great opportunity for reflection, dialogue and communion among women religious in the U.S. today…
“The Visitation has given us a priceless opportunity to renew our commitment to the consecrated life and to place our unique gifts at the service of the Church, as together we confront new and emerging threats to human dignity, religious freedom and conscience protection..”
On-site visits were carried out at 90 different religious institutes, resulting in a report that the sisters say accurately reflects both common trends and the great diversity of female congregations today. The relatively short report covers everything from declining vocations to problems of financial management, from the particular identity of different congregations to calls by some sisters for greater recognition of women’s contribution on the part of the male hierarchy.
Above all, Cardinal Braz de Aviz said the report is an opportunity for his Congregation to express gratitude for all that women religious contribute to the evangelising work of the Church…
“Since the early days of the Catholic Church in their country, women religious have courageously been in the forefront of her evangelising mission, selflessly tending to the spiritual, moral, educational, physical and social needs of countless individuals, especially the poor and marginalised.”
But what of those who still feel the investigation amounts to a criticism and an attempt to clamp down on women seen as moving too far away from the teachings of the Catholic Church. A separate investigation is currently underway, instigated by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, into the Leadership Conference of Women Religious which represents around 80% of America’s female religious institutes and some fear that may be more critical than the current report. Sr Sharon Holland is president of the LCWR and she believes it’s vital to listen to those who are still angry about the way they feel the Vatican has treated them…
“I need to listen to those people before I try to answer them….I think we’ll have to look at the call in the document, in this year of consecrated life, to move towards greater forgiveness and reconciliation….we have to listen to each other and understand where people are coming from, and sometimes even being heard helps a person let go of negative things”.
Moderating the Vatican press conference was Canadian Father Tom Rosica, one of the very few men who worked closely with Sr Mary Clare and her team. He says men in the Catholic Church today have a lot to learn from the professional skills and faithful spirit of their female counterparts
“I found myself with some of the most intelligent, competent, faithful women I’ve ever met….for the four of us, in a very small minority, we were astounded and enriched by the experience….my hope is that men in the Church would learn from the process put in place by this visitation…..it taught us about dialogue, about professionalism, about faithfulness to the Church, but most especially about listening”.