James Martin, S.J.November 05, 2009

Our friend Robert Mickens, Rome correspondent for the London Tablet, sent us this news brief:

ROME -- The official that initiated the Vatican's investigation of women religious in the United States admitted this week that the enquiry was fueled by concerns that American nuns had become overly secularized and influenced by feminism.

Cardinal Franc Rodé told Vatican Radio on Wednesday that his office decided to launch the investigation -- officially called an apostolic visitation -- after hearing "critical voices from the United States". The cardinal, who is prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, indicated that "an important representative of the Church in the United States" was among the critics.  

He said the representative -- whose identity was not revealed -- had "alerted" him "to some irregularities or deficiencies" in the way the religious sisters were living.  "Above all, you could speak of a certain secularist mentality that has spread among these religious families, perhaps even a certain 'feminist' spirit," the cardinal said.  

Cardinal Rodé's comments, which were given in an Italian radio interview, were sharper than a more carefully written English-language statement he issued a day earlier as a response to the "many news reports" that have criticized the Vatican visitation.   In that text he never mentioned secularism or feminism.  He said the purpose of the investigation was to "to identify the signs of hope, as well as concerns, within religious congregations in the United States".  

Cardinal Rodé on Wednesday said the final decision to hold an apostolic visitation was taken in September 2008 during a symposium on religious life at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. Nearly 600 people attended that event, including some bishops, priests, lay people and religious. Many of the speakers were critical of develops that have appeared in religious orders in the forty some years since the Second Vatican Council. 

"There a desire was expressed to look for a remedy to this situation [of women's religious life], which many say is is not as good as that of past decades," the cardinal said in this week's interview.

For more background on the Stonehill College symposium and its relation to the current apostolic visitation, see Tom Fox's article at NCR: http://ncronline.org/news/women/stonehill-symposium-played-role-women-religious-study --Robert Mickens

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G Hildreth
11 years 11 months ago
Maria, there is no contradiction in defending the sisters who are coming under scrutiny, but failing to see any offense being implied by that scrutiny.
Do you not know any families? or close-knit groups of friends?
Can you imagine a loving family member who would NOT scrutinize the activity and health of other members of that family, (specially when things are PATENTLY not going well for that other member)?
Only addicts and adolescents whine, "You don't trust me!" when one tries to intervene when they are doing themselves an injury.
Marie Rehbein
11 years 11 months ago
Well, God forbid that feminism should influence religious women.  The Cardinal's comment reveals that he knows absolutely nothing of what made feminism so influential.  This is probably because he is not old enough to remember the oppression of women that lingered in society from the Victorian era.  His comment implies that he prefers women to be oppressed.
11 years 11 months ago
At seventy-five he should be old enough!
Marie Rehbein
11 years 11 months ago
Well, John, if it isn't his age that makes him oblivious to what was bad for women in the good old days, then he probably just prefers not to see women as equals and likes to see them oppressed.
Phillip Clark
11 years 11 months ago
It's so obvious, but so sad, the men in the Vatican are threatened by intelligent, progressive minded women. They express their religious vocations through compassion rather than proclamations. This is what the Vatican can't understand and wants to stop.
Maggie Kost
11 years 11 months ago
Somehow "the men in the Vatican" (because there are no women in the Vatican?) failed to be threatened by as intelligent and powerful a woman as Bl. Theresa of Calcutta. She definitely expressed her vocation through compassion, and not through proclamations, and yet she was embraced by everybody, in the Vatican and out. What was her secret? Sanctity. Plain and simple. Holiness is a hard thing to acheive for anyone, man or woman, but rather than admit this it is easier to fall back on pre-school level statements like "he must LIKE seeing women oppressed!" Oooooo that mean old cardinal with his differing philosophical views! When will the evil of contrasting opinions be ended? If you are not a feminist, you must be a chauvinist, dontcha know.
Marie Rehbein
11 years 11 months ago
     Magdalena, it would be different if there were no truth to the idea that women in Western society were oppressed prior to the rise of Feminism, but it is true.  Therefore, if a Cardinal states that he is on the look out for feminist tendencies, presumably to eradicate them, then that Cardinal is oblivious to the oppression of women.  Given his age, it is probably the case that how things were seemed to him to be how things should be since, as a man, he would only have benefitted from that oppression of women.
     You rhetorically ask what Blessed Theresa of Calucutta's (Mother Theresa's) secret was, but you fail to compare her sacrifice to the lack of sacrifice of those who sit in judgment of the many women who do not quite attain her level of self-denial in the service of God.  It seems quite out of place for these men to be examining the mentality of the many women who do sacrifice more than they who sit in their pretty robes indulging in religious ritual in Rome.
Maggie Kost
11 years 11 months ago
Not being able to read hearts, I would not presume to compare anyone's level of sacrifice to anyone else's "lack" of sacrifice. I do not know what you are basing your own judgement on, except face-value externals. "This picture of Cardinal Rode shows him in opulent liturgical garments, therefore his sacrifice is not equivalent to that of the women religious who wear suits." How do we know what his sacrifice is? Do you have some insight into his private life? Is there a way to measure sacrifice, quantify it? Can I really compare myself to anyone else in this respect and decide whether I am doing more for God than they are? Can I compare other people and "rate" them on their holiness? X ranks above Y etc? To me this is the very type of judgment we are warned about in the gospel...
There is a Sister who works in my parish, a wonderful woman, who belongs to one of the congregations most likely feeling the heat right now. She never wears make-up and drives a used car (although it is a later-model used car as I would expect for someone who has to travel long distances). Her clothes are well-made and attractive but not flashy. She resides with one other religious in an apartment, which I have never seen, but I presume it is fairly modest. This is her lifestyle, and it is simple as it should be. Nevertheless she and the other Sisters in her congregation live in the lap of luxury compared to 95% of the world. I would never suggest to her that her sacrifices and way of living her vow of poverty are not as "good" as Mother Theresa's or Cardinal Rode's. The cross is given to each of us in a different way, but we all must carry the cross.
When you begin any phrase with the words "Given his age," and then proceed to make assumptions about someone's values and attitudes, it is roughly the same as opening up with "Given his skin color." People recognize the latter is wrong, but ageism skates under...
Marie Rehbein
11 years 11 months ago
Magdalena, how is it that you defend the sisters who are coming under scrutiny, but fail to see any offense being implied by that scrutiny?  It would be one thing if the man had said that he admired the work of these women and hoped to inquire in depth as to how better to recognize that work in order to support it more, but he did not say anything like that.  He said that he was concerned about feminist tendencies, which from my perspective are not cause for concern.  I would be concerned if there were a lack of feminist tendencies, such that what the sisters are doing were akin to being enslaved or a mandatory fulfillment of some obligation instead of their willing gift to God.

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