Apostolic Visitation Questionnaire: Returned to Sender?

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.”

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10 years 6 months ago
Pete: Thank you so much for your kind words. I am not a scholar nor am I a theologian. Eric: I think when we focus on the technicalities, we lose the oportunity of appreciating the beauty and widom St. ignatius offers. Certainly Ignatius' letter on Obedience was not meant for the Society alone. Fr. Hardon remarks:

"But more valuable than any private opinion on the subject is the declaration of Pope Pius XI that “this was the special gift of God to Ignatius: to lead men back to the practice of the virtue of obedience.” [21] Viewed against this authoritative statement, the Letter on Obedience takes on an entirely new significance. No longer just a private document for one religious family or only for the cloister, it becomes a supernatural weapon to overcome the forces of evil that would destroy the Church in our own day, as in the time of St. Ignatius".

Eric, I offer the words of others like St. Ignatius, St. Augustine, Fr. Hardon, and others, because their words help lead me out of my own ignorance. They instruct me. They are certainly better spokesman for Christ than me! Isn't that why God gave us the Saints? I like to think that Fr. Hardon SJ, now a Servant of God, is on his way.

Finally, conversion, from the Latin, convertere, means to turn back, to turn back completely. I hope, every day, that my heart is able to turn back completely, away from, my own sin, toward the Heart of Jesus. He called us friends.
10 years 6 months ago
There is nothing surypy in obedience or humility. To argue that disobedience and pride is a higher good is without any merit. Non serviam. It ended badly.
10 years 6 months ago
Priests Must Live a Martyr's Life
Transcription of a conference given by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.-

"The breakdown of religious communities of women in the United States (I don't think I have ever said this publicly) -the breakdown of communities of religious women in our country is religious women envying priests. They will not take orders through priests including the Bishop of Rome. I know, how well I know"!-John Hardon SJ

10 years 6 months ago
Way back in the 60s we, worker bees, used to always hear the threat 'The CEO. the President. The general. wants to know all the names of those not complying'!!...empty threat then, empty threat now.
10 years 6 months ago
Obedience is rooted in Sacrifice and Love.
10 years 6 months ago
You are so right. Whether you are a husband, wife, priest, bishop, nun, brother, or Catholic magazine editor, obedience is very difficult.
Vince Killoran
10 years 6 months ago
This issue appeared on the AMERICA website a couple of months ago and, at that time, a number of bloggers  tried to correct the confusion by Maria et al. over the difference between the Magisterium and the Curia.  I wonder why this incorrect understanding continues. 
10 years 6 months ago
"We see from experience that men, not only with average talents but even less than average, can often be the instruments of uncommon supernatural fruit, because they are completely obedient and through this virtue allow themselves to be affected and moved by the powerful hand of the author of all good. On the other hand, great talent may be seen exerting great labor with less than ordinary fruit, because being themselves the source of their activity, that is, their own self-love, or at least not allowing themselves to be moved by God our Lord through obedience to their superiors, they do not produce results proportionate to the almighty hand of God our Lord, who does not accept them as His instruments".

St. Ignatius From Rome, December 17, 1552

Vince: It seems that rebellion and self-idolatry does not "yield fruit". Splitting hairs over the Curia and tbe Magisterium misses the point. Obedience to one's superior is obedience to Christ. Are we greater than the Master who was obedient unto death?
10 years 6 months ago
If not obedience then at least humility.
10 years 6 months ago
Joe: Yes. And aren't obedience and humility inextricably entwined? There is a reason that many religious orders in the United States are in their present state of disintegration. The disintegration is certainly not attributable to obedience or humility. Where there is self will there cannot be surrender to the will of God. The two are incompatible.
10 years 6 months ago
Joe: Yes. And aren't obedience and humility inextricably entwined? There is a reason that many religious orders in the United States are in their present state of disintegration. The disintegration is certainly not attributable to obedience or humility. Where there is self will there cannot be surrender to the will of God. The two are incompatible.
Vince Killoran
10 years 6 months ago
"Splitting hairs over the Curia and tbe Magisterium misses the point."  There is a major distinction here, not "splitting hairs." I fail to see how these women religious fail in their vows.
I'm not clear to whom Joe is referring-the Curia's humility perhaps?  That would be great!
Liam Richardson
10 years 6 months ago
So far as I am aware, religious (male and female) do not take vows of obedience to priests. I don't know what Fr Hardon was thinking when he said that. There's this kind of modern-era military/corporatist thinking that religious and deacons report to priests, priests to bishops, bishops to archishops, whereas the dynamic in the Church is actually more pre-modern than that.
10 years 6 months ago
Liam: Modern?


On Perfect Obedience Rome, March 26, 1553

7. Final Observations

"Now what I have said of obedience is not only to be understood of individuals with reference to their immediate superiors, but also of rectors and local superiors with reference to provincials, and of provincials with reference to the general, and of the general toward him whom God our Lord has given as superior, His vicar on earth. In this way complete subordination will be observed and, consequently, union and charity, without which the welfare and government of the Society or of any other congregation would be impossible.

It is by this means that Divine Providence gently disposes all things, bringing to their appointed end the lowest by the middlemost, and the middlemost by the highest. Even in the angels there is the subordination of one hierarchy to another, and in the heavens, and all the bodies that are moved, the lowest by the highest and the highest in their turn unto the Supreme Mover of all.

We see the same on earth in well-governed states, and in the hierarchy of the Church, the members of which render their obedience to the one universal vicar of Christ our Lord. And the better this subordination is kept, the better the government. But when it is lacking everyone can see what outstanding faults ensue. Therefore, in this congregation, in which our Lord has given me some charge, I desire that this virtue be as perfect as if the whole welfare of the Society depended on it".

St. Ignatius


St. Augustine on the virtue of obedience:

"For religious obedience to be pleasing to God, it must be prompt without delay, faithful without servility, willing without complaint, simple without discussion, constant without cessation, orderly with no deviation, joyous without perturbance, strenuous without scrupulosity, and universal with no exception. For in the measure that we listen to our superiors, God will also listen to our prayers".

Too out of date?

Eric Stoltz
10 years 6 months ago
Maria, you are copying and pasting quotations just because they have the word ''obedience'' in them. You are missing out on the context.
In the first quote by Ignatius, he is talking about the fourth vow of obedience to the pope. That was developed by Ignatius as a way to support the most pressing needs of the missions. Only Jesuits take this fourth vow, so it is ridiculous to present it as a sort of general exhortation to all men and women religious.
The second quote, by Augustine, talks about the evangelical counsel of obedience religious promise to their own religious superiors. That means the superiors within their own congregation, or order. Religious do not take a vow to merely obey anyone who wants to order them to do something.
So neither of these quotations is pertinent to the Apostolic visitations; in the case of the first, there are no women Jesuits. In the case of the second, there is no accusation that revligious women are disobeying their own religious superiors. So you have effectively dealt a death-blow to two unrelatred straw men.
Peter Lakeonovich
10 years 6 months ago
Maria, God bless you for your comments. You will no doubt be crticized for your approach of quoting great Saints and holy individuals. However, you should not be criticized because if something has already been well stated what's the point in trying to rephrase it. I appreciate your obvious devotion to St. Ignatius. My own spiritual director is a Jesuit who I admire greatly and who lives the values of St. Ignatius in the quest for the salvation of souls by the entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, we do not see too much of that in this America website. It is most unfortunate. However, I keep coming back because it is a Jesuit website and I keep hoping those in charge will see fit to instill some of that wonderful Ignatian spirituality into this blog. I think St. Ignatius would be horrified to read some of the articles posted here (i.e., the majority of articles by Michael Sean Winters). When St. Ignatius and the other founding Jesuits picked a name for their order they decided it would be the Company (or Companions) of Jesus, like the Apostles were. To be a companion of Jesus is to be a friend of Jesus. Would friends of Jesus really write some of the pieces that we see here? Let's pray together for all of our conversions of heart.
Vince Killoran
10 years 6 months ago
Thank you Deacon Eric for your clear-headed and accurate explanation (I was struggling to suggest something similar in my post but I wasn't doing a very good job!). When we present information that corrects our views it shouldn't be dismissed-no matter our political or religious views-as "technicalities."  There were some strong denunciations of religious women made by some bloggers but it turns out they do not stand under the scrutiny of facts.
10 years 6 months ago
The sisters' refusal to fill out the survey lacks humility and obedience regardless of their vows. It also is petty and childish.
10 years 6 months ago
Dear Joe: Whew. I was starting to feel like I was off base. Thank you. I just think the spirit of defiance and self-will works against building up the body and cannot be the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Defiance is the hallmark of childhood that sees through the myopic lens of self-centeredness. Bad fruit.
Vince Killoran
10 years 6 months ago
Maria:  Please don't let Joe's raw self-assertion wash away your feeling that you are "off base" on this issue!  
I've noticed that when it suits some of our bloggers' arguments they take a quite literal (and often narrow) reading on Church doctrine & teachings.  When they are unsure-and challenged- they appeal to vague and syrupy notions that are not well-grounded in fact.
10 years 6 months ago
Make no mistake. I am challenged by the demands of Christ. Not America Magazine.
Vince Killoran
10 years 6 months ago
I think the whole point is that these women religious are not being "disobedient"-and they are not breaking their vows. You want, very badly, for them to fill out the questionnaire in a certain way that is pleasing to the Curia and to live out their lives in a specific manner. When they disappoint Joe and you then you hurl insults that they are "bad fruit," "self-centered," and "petty and childish."  
10 years 6 months ago
Nine Principal Features of Christ's Being Crowned with Thorns
John Hardon SJ-

Just the first 3:

"Now the principal features of Christ's being Crowned with Thorns. As we go through these Gospel accounts of what actually happened we find that there were no less, I counted nine significant features that characterize what we summarize by the crowning with thorns.

First. Jesus is taken by the soldiers into the Palace, into the palace of Pilate's Pretorium. Notice, nothing ever happens by chance. No crime, no sin, no act of violence, no cruelty is ever done by chance. God's permissive Providence is behind it. It just had to be a Palace, in anticipation of what was going to be done to the Savior. Royalty had to be symbolized by the very surroundings in which Jesus, in mockery, was Crowned with Thorns.

Second. Jesus is stripped of His own bloody garments. They must have been drenched in blood covering His just scourged Body, scourged, we are told, to the bone. Listen, the purpose of Roman scourging was to strip the flesh from the bones. They, then, tore off the garment He was covered with and clothed in (first act of mockery) in a robe of symbolic purple. He claimed to be a King – all right He deserves a royal robe.

Third feature. The soldiers then got some thorns, wove them into a crown and forced, pressed this crown on His Head. The key word, the key word in the Third Sorrowful Mystery is the verb crowning. Thorns, of course, caused immense physical pain but Christ was crowned to ridicule His claims to being a King... Oh how Christ's Royalty has been maligned, opposed, denied, ridiculed over the centuries.

"What women religious groups are saying is that the instruments being employed are not satisfactory for us"- Sister Waskowiak

They cannot turn in a survey?

10 years 6 months ago
1832 The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: "charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity."112


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