Vatican to release findings of investigation of U.S. women religious

Projected on a screen above choir Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, celebrates Mass during a 2013 Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly in Kissimmee, Fla. (CNS photo/Roberto Gonzalez)

The final report of a five-year, Vatican-ordered study of communities of women religious in the United States will be released by the Vatican Dec. 16.

The top two officials of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and three leaders of women's congregations were to take part in the presentation, according to Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, head of Canada's Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and assistant to the Vatican spokesman.

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Although it was too early for the Vatican press office to announce the event, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service that a news conference was "foreseen" on that date.

The final report of the findings of the apostolic visitation also was expected to be made available online, Father Rosica told the Detroit Free Press Dec. 2 during a visit to Detroit.

According to the priest, who has assisted the Vatican press office during major events including the recent extraordinary Synod of Bishops, the officials expected to take part in the Vatican news conference were: Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the congregation for religious; Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, congregation secretary; Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the apostolic visitor appointed by the Vatican; Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life and chairperson of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious; and Sister Sharon Holland, vice president of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The visitation of institutes of women religious in the United States is unrelated to an ongoing Vatican-ordered reform of the LCWR following a doctrinal assessment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That study, which was ordered in 2008, looked at what the doctrinal congregation said were "serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life."

The doctrinal assessment called for the organization's reform to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women's ordination and homosexuality. The LCWR has about 1,400 members who are leaders of their orders in the United States. The members represent about 80 percent of the 51,600 women religious in the country.

The visitation of U.S. women religious also was initiated in 2008, but it looked directed at 341 congregations -- covering nearly all of the roughly 60,000 sisters in the country. Only those nuns who live in cloisters were exempt.

The investigation was begun by Cardinal Franc Rode, now-retired prefect of the Vatican congregation for religious. As prime reasons for the investigation, he had cited the desire to learn why the number of members in U.S. religious communities had declined since the late 1960s and to look at the quality of life for the women religious.

The visitation process began with meetings between Mother Clare and 127 superior generals. It was followed up with the distribution of a questionnaire to the religious orders. Topics covered were related to the life and operation of the orders: identity; governance; vocation promotion, admission and formation policies; spiritual life and common life; mission and ministry; and finances.

Once the information was collected and compiled, teams of visitors fanned across the country throughout 2010 to meet with congregational leaders as well as individual members of religious orders. About 90 congregations were visited by dozens of volunteers.

The Vatican office for religious was responsible for reviewing all of the visitation reports as well as Mother Clare's comprehensive report; making its evaluation and responses; and drafting its findings in a final report.

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William Rydberg
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