Under the glass: studying life in the Church

I've posted, via Rocco, the detail of the Vatican's study of women religious in the US (official website: Apostolic Visitation of the Institutes of Women Religious in the US), investigating the life, ministry and governance of communities of American nuns.
In a recent combox on this page, Rosemary and Michael, regular readers on this page, make interesting observations on the Apostolic Visitation:
Do you know how this study of US women religious compares in complexity and extent of information to be gathered to the recent study of seminaries in the US?

Somehow it seems as if this is an inordinately in-depth look at women religious.

Rosemary, that's a really good question. I also wonder how this inquisition compares to the thorough investigation of the bishops, the clerical culture, the environment, and the structure in the US patriarchy that enabled and covered up the sexual assault on thousands of our children, from coast to coast, for many decades.

Oh...wait...that wasn't necessary.
Michael is vigilant and faithful in reminding us regularly of the work left unfinished in the aftermath of the scandal of sexual abuse by clergy. His comment here is especially compelling.

The Vatican, of course, has a right to call for a study of any sector or ministry in the life of the Roman Catholic Church. How Rome goes about such studies and how it chooses the subjects for such investigations provides much food for thought and debate.

The question implicit in Michael's comment continues to go unanswered and few will be surprised if there is never a Vatican study of "the bishops, the clerical culture, the environment, and the structure in the US patriarchy that enabled and covered up the sexual assault on thousands of our children, from coast to coast, for many decades."

And now one can add Ireland to the list of abuse histories with serious questions of responsibility and accountability left hanging...

In other news related to the life of vowed religious in the US:

• The Vatican is also investigating the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in a study independent of the Apostolic Visitation. American nuns are definitely under Rome's magnifying glass.

Ken Briggs at NCR writes about the do-or-die decision he sees facing the LCWR. The combox following his article showcases the different responses evoked by the Vatican investigation of this group.

I've been unable to locate online any official statement or document regards the Vatican study of the LCWR. Here's a link to the LCWR statement and response. If any reader has a link to official documentation, please send it along.

• In today's mail I see that CathNewsUSA announces a traveling 3 year exhibit sponsored by the LCWR titled Women and Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America. The exhibit focuses on the history and contribution religious sisters have made in American history. I don't know if more exhibit sites will be added but I'm hoping that something closer to Boston will appear on the schedule. Check out the website for a look at something that must have been in the planning for several years.

• And NCR's John Allen writes of last week's annual assembly of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, representing the leadership of more than 20,000 vowed religious priests and brothers in the United States, some 10 percent of whom are now foreign missionaries:
It’s no secret that in many ways, these are tough times for religious orders in America. From its peak in the late 1960s, the number of active religious order priests in the country dropped by 2005 by almost 4,000, representing a decline of 22 percent...

Membership isn’t the only challenge. Benedictine Abbot Jerome Kodell of the Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas acknowledged that the orders have also been badly shaken by the sexual abuse crisis. In part, Kodell said, that’s because of the enormous damage caused by priests who abused their trust; in part, he said, it’s because every priest today lives with the knowledge that “we may be accused tomorrow, guilty or innocent.”

Yet the message radiating out of St. Louis was largely one of hope.

Perhaps the most determined apostle of hope in the mix was Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope’s nuncio, or ambassador, in the United States since December 2005, who delivered the assembly’s keynote address on Thursday...

In his address, Sambi called upon the church in the United States “not to remain a prisoner of the sex scandal” nor “a prisoner to the crisis in religious life.”

Sambi acknowledged that the sexual abuse crisis has taken a terrible toll, saying that in some quarters it has “deprived us of all credibility.” Likewise, he conceded that diminishing numbers have induced a crisis of confidence in some circles of religious life. Nonetheless, Sambi insisted that rebirth is possible through adopting the spirit of St. Paul, being “seized,” “grasped,” by the Gospel of Christ, and preaching that gospel relentlessly...

(Read the complete article here)
I want to go with the hope and evangelizing zeal Archbishop Sambi urges on us. His message is inviting. Still, I wonder how one succeeds in not being "a prisoner of the sex scandal" that has in some quarters "deprived us of all credibility" when questions like those raised by Michael go begging for a response.

Image: detail from Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi by Raphael

-ConcordPastor Study on Religious Life


  1. I so laud you for posting all of this and for our courage in speaking plainly about potentially challenging topics. You neither inflame nor brush off, you simply present your words and that is a gift.

    This situation seems especially tough because of the seeming inequity between visitation standards.

    James Martin, SJ wrote about this on the America blog.


  2. I linked to the "on the America blog" cited by Fran above. The first comment - "Where's the good sister's habit?" - reminded me of many years ago asking Sr. Gabriel if she missed the habits the sisters had worn when they first arrived in High Point, NC from Ireland in 1948 and which they had worn, I think, until the 1960s or 70s. Without hesitation in her lovely lilting Irish accent, Sister Gabriel said "Oh heavens no! We suffered so." In those days there was no air conditioning and the summers were so hot and humid. Sister said she could feel the perspiration running down her back. The habit was black, full length to the ground, and had a veil, etc., that totally covered your head and most of your face. After the reforms, the Poor Servants of the Mother of God wore a modified habit, which was much more comfortable for them in their work at Maryfield, the nursing home the Sisters had founded. Today some of the Sisters wear a habit and others wear street dress. Sr. Lucy, the Administrator, has worn business suits with a cross on her lapel for years. She joined the Rotary Club decades ago (!) Maryfield, now known as Pennybyrn at Maryfield, has grown and thrived through the years under the guidance of the Sisters and with the tremendous ecumenical involvement of the community. It includes a nursing home, assisted living facilities, retirement homes, etc. The Sisters are, in my opinion, a bit of heaven on earth.

    Why some people seem to think a habit is so important baffles me.

    The love of God that the Sisters convey and the extraordinary care that they give to the residents of Pennybyrn at Maryfield is what is important. Not whether they wear a habit.


  3. Hope you posted the same over at America!

  4. I didn't, and I don't know how to print my comment in order to retype it at America. I am afraid I wrote too much to remember by heart! This trip down memory lane has caused me to get out two books to reread...one is about Frances Margaret Taylor, the founder of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, and the other is about the history of Maryfield in High Point, NC.


  5. CP, I did return to Fran's link above to the America blog and put in a comment yesterday. Take a look!



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