Don't miss the extensive, front-page story in The New York Times, by lead religion reporter Laurie Goodstein, on the Apostolic Visitation of women's religious orders in this country, and of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. The Times has comments not only from Mother Mary Millea, the Vatican's Apostolic Visitor, but also from Sister Sandra Schneiders, of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., Sister Janice Farnham, of Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry, as well as Kenneth Briggs, author of a book on American sisters. Goodstein also obtained reactions directly from the LCWR. The Times piece is the first in-depth look that the general public will have of this important action by the Vatican. As of 2:30 today (Wednesday) the piece had gotten over 400 comments. Here's an excerpt:
--"Nuns were the often-unsung workers who helped build the Roman Catholic Church in this country, [writes Goodstein] planting schools and hospitals and keeping parishes humming. But for the last three decades, their numbers have been declining — to 60,000 today from 180,000 in 1965.
While some nuns say they are grateful that the Vatican is finally paying attention to their dwindling communities, many fear that the real motivation is to reel in American nuns who have reinterpreted their calling for the modern world.
In the last four decades since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many American nuns stopped wearing religious habits, left convents to live independently and went into new lines of work: academia and other professions, social and political advocacy and grass-roots organizations that serve the poor or promote spirituality. A few nuns have also been active in organizations that advocate changes in the church like ordaining women and married men as priests.
Some sisters surmise that the Vatican and even some American bishops are trying to shift them back into living in convents, wearing habits or at least identifiable religious garb, ordering their schedules around daily prayers and working primarily in Roman Catholic institutions, like schools and hospitals.
“They think of us as an ecclesiastical work force,” said Sister Sandra M. Schneiders, [pictured above] professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, in California. “Whereas we are religious, we’re living the life of total dedication to Christ, and out of that flows a profound concern for the good of all humanity. So our vision of our lives, and their vision of us as a work force, are just not on the same planet.”
James Martin, SJ