A Jan. 12 letter posted at the website of the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States requests that U.S. women major superiors reconsider their response or lack thereof to the recent questionnaire from the office (hat tip to Tom Fox at NCR). The letter came from Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Vatican’s choice to head up the three-year visitation of U.S. women religious congregations. Major Superiors of U.S. women religious congregations had been asked to respond to the questionnaire and return it by Nov. 20, 2009.
In her letter Mother Millea asked major superiors “who have not yet fully complied to prayerfully reconsider their response.” There has previously been some indication that religious congregations had balked at responding to the questionnaire. A spokesperson for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious said the LCWR had no “formal information” about how well women religious have responded to the questionnaire and that the LCWR was not tracking compliance.
Mother Millea’s office said it would have a clarifying statement on the issue tomorrow, but her appeal suggests that the three-phase visitation may be stalled in phase 2. (Phase 1 included dialogue with congregational leadership; phase 3 is scheduled to begin in April 2010 with on-site visits by teams of religious visits to a representative sample of institutes. Phase 2 was intended to be already concluded with the return of completed questionnaires.)
Sister Mary Waskowiak, President of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, said that her congregation had responded to the questionnaire by forwarding a copy of their constitution back to the visitation office and indicating where answers could be found to specific questions in the congregation’s annuarium, a regular status report to Rome. Sister Waskowiak believes as many as 100 other congregations across the country responded similarly. The foot-dragging by major superiors on the questionnaire could be interpreted as an attempt to stop the visiation, Sister Waskowiak said, “but it alternatively [could mean] at the least modify it. . . . this process is not right for us.” She thinks Mother Millea’s recent letter may indicate that she heard that message and may be seeking an opening to an alternative method of information gathering.
“Two things we are continuing to request,” said Sister Waskowiak, “is clarity on the origins of the visitation and the motivation behind it and [we are requesting] dialogue. And we know that is not the Vatican’s style, but if it were to happen what a watershed moment that would be in terms of the good relations among women, the religious congregations and the Vatican.”
In her renewed appeal, Mother Millea writes: “When I recently met with Cardinal Rodé, he assured me that the Holy Father continues to show his interest in and support of the Apostolic Visitation. The Cardinal was pleased to hear about the wholehearted and genuine responses of many congregations to the Questionnaire. However, I also shared with him my sadness and disappointment that not all congregations have responded to this phase of dialogue with the Church in a manner fully supportive of the purpose and goals of the Apostolic Visitation . . . I take this opportunity, then, to once again invite all major superiors who have not responded fully to the Questionnaire to do so.” Sister Waskowiak said the leadership of the U.S. Sisters of Mercy would be meeting Feb. 9 to formulate a response to Mother Millea’s renewed appeal for cooperation.
“We recognize that we have a responsibility to Rome,” said Sister Waskowiak, who argues that the resisting congregations are in fact compliant with their constitutions and the pertaining canon law in their response "and we do it graciously."
“What women religious groups are saying is that the instruments being employed are not satisfactory for us to be able to tell our story . . . We continue to speak from different paradigms of religious life.
“We believe we have a good story to tell and we would like to tell it; we know we are not perfect,” said Sister Waskowiak. But the level of secrecy the Vatican is maintaining about the visitation and how the congregations will be evaluated is “not matched by the transparency they are requesting of us. . . . I would hope for more dialogue.”