Song of the Boo-Birds

May 2009

It came out of the blue, they say. A total surprise. You could almost hear the gasps nationwide when Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, announced that the Holy See would undertake an apostolic visitation of women's religious orders in the U.S. In a decree dated December 22, 2008, Cardinal Rodé, whose congregation is charged with "intervening in all that is reserved to the Holy See regarding consecrated life," stated that the visitation would "look into the quality of life" at the general houses, provincial houses, and centers of initial formation of women religious in the U.S. (Cloistered, contemplative orders are not part of the visitation.)

Cardinal Rodé, by the faculties granted him by Pope Benedict XVI on November 17, 2008, appointed the Rev. Mother Mary Clare Millea as the primary "apostolic visitator." Mother Millea, a Connecticut native, is the superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Rome-based congregation with 135 sisters in the U.S. Mother Millea holds a doctorate in canon law and has earned advanced degrees in special education and psychology. "I see the present study of our congregations in the United States as a means to help us reflect on, evaluate and improve our authentic response to the founding charisms of our institutes and to the Church's expectations," she told Our Sunday Visitor (Feb. 15). The upcoming visitation, believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S., has already begun, and will take an estimated two years to complete. (Previous studies of U.S. religious orders in 1983 and 1986 overseen by San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn were technically not apostolic visitations.) Mother Millea has said that she is "truly humbled, and a bit overwhelmed" at the thought of gathering facts, statistics, and information about formation and the apostolic habits of the nearly 400 institutes in the U.S. She has described her assignment as "daunting in scope." Mother Millea will ultimately be responsible for transmitting her findings in a detailed report to Cardinal Rodé.

Women's religious orders have struggled through a tough transitional period in the decades since Vatican II, experiencing a rise in median age, the "gentrification of their ranks" (according to Catholic News Agency, Jan. 30), and a precipitous drop in membership. The number of U.S. women religious has fallen from a high of 180,000 in 1965 to 59,000 today -- a decline of nearly 68 percent. Last fall, at a Boston symposium on religious life, Cardinal Rodé noted that, despite the "past greatness" and "rich contributions" of consecrated religious to U.S. culture, "all is not well with religious life in America." (To get a sense of what has gone wrong, see Ginger Hutton's June 2008 NOR article "On Retreat With Sister Rupp," and Anne Barbeau Gardiner's reviews of Green Sisters, Feb. 2008, and Awe-Filled Wonder, Mar. 2009.)

Nevertheless, some women religious have expressed their dismay that the Holy See would actually have the temerity to interfere in their business. The National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN) issued a statement saying it is "suspicious of the true intent behind this Visitation," and suggested that Cardinal Rodé might be suffering from "a difficulty understanding contemporary women religious." NCAN even questions the wisdom of the selection of Mother Millea, who "resides in Rome and oversees a small congregation of approximately 1,000 sisters, with relatively few in the U.S." The problem with Mother Millea is that the visitation is supposed to focus on the "major" communities; hers "does not match this profile." Better, the Vatican should have consulted the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) when selecting the visitator. The choice of Mother Millea, says NCAN, is "culturally insensitive." A Rome-based American nun reporting on American nuns for Rome? Horrors!

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New Oxford Notes: May 2009

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Maybe Michael Rose needs to write a sequel about the Convents in the 60's 70's & 80's to the present. "Goodbye Good Women" The only reason someone gets upset about an evaluation of what they are doing, is someone who in doing what they are not suppose to be doing. Pope Benedict XVI has every right to investigate anything "Catholic" he is the Vicar of Christ, the visible head of the Catholic Church on earth. How dare anyone question his authority to do so. The orders that have remained faithful to the magisterium do not seem to have any problems with attracting Catholic women to their orders. I read the article on Joyce Rupp while looking for information on her, because my daughter, a new hire at a Catholic grade school was given a book written by her. Thank you for the article, it confirmed the information that I had found, which is very little. These feminist are very stealth in trying to indoctrinate new people. May this investigation be very fruitful in exposing the orders that have agendas that are counter to Catholicism. Posted by: gonecrazy
May 29, 2009 05:57 PM EDT
The investigation is long overdue. Far too many "american catholic" religious are nothing but parasites. They number is huge and proper lableling of their beliefs and practices is essential to help those people of good will to avoid and or oppose them and their agenda of deception.
God Bless those who are evaluating the scandal of the american catholic religious.
Posted by: TKENNANE
July 08, 2009 04:42 PM EDT
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