Cardinal Franc Rode, head of the Vatican office overseeing religious orders, has said that the apostolic visitation of women’s religious orders in the US is to counter a certain ‘feminist’ spirit.
In a statement issued by the Vatican, the cardinal said he requested an apostolic visitation of women’s religious orders to help the sisters and to respond to concerns for their welfare.
“This apostolic visitation hopes to encourage vocations and assure a better future for women religious,” the cardinal said.
He told Vatican Radio in a separate interview that some media presented the visitation “as if it were an act of mistrust of American female religious congregations or as if it were a global criticism of their work.” He added, “It is not.”
In the radio interview, Cardinal Rode said the investigation was a response to concerns, including from “an important representative of the US Church” regarding “some irregularities or omissions in American religious life.”
He added, “Most of all, you could say, it involves a certain secular mentality that has spread in these religious families and, perhaps, also a certain ‘feminist’ spirit.”
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York posted an article on his blog on October 29 listing what he called examples of anti-Catholicism in The New York Times, including a recent column regarding the apostolic visitation.
Calling the column by journalist Maureen Dowd “intemperate and scurrilous,” Archbishop Dolan said the investigation of US women religious “is well worth discussing and hardly exempt from legitimate questioning”.
He objected to Dowd using “every anti-Catholic caricature possible” to illustrate her point that the nuns are being picked on by the Vatican.
However, Cardinal Rode has insisted that the apostolic visitation is a response to “concerns expressed by American Catholics – religious, laity, clergy and hierarchy – about the welfare of religious women and consecrated life in general.”
He said his office already had been considering convoking an apostolic visitation when he travelled to the US in 2008 for a symposium on religious life. The symposium was part of celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Boston.
“The multitude and complexity” of the problems and challenges facing U.S. religious were made clear by speakers at the symposium, he said.
“This helped me understand that such an evaluation of the challenges facing individual religious and their congregations would benefit the church at large as well as the sisters and institutes involved,” he added.
Cardinal Rode wrote that he hoped the visitation not only would give the Vatican an accurate and thorough picture of the life of US women religious, but that it also would be “a realistic and graced opportunity for personal and community introspection as major superiors and sisters cooperate in this study.”
The cardinal said he was pleased that three-fourths of US superiors general took part in the first phase of the visitation, communicating their hopes and concerns about the study to Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whom the Vatican appointed as apostolic visitator.
The second phase of the visitation was launched in September when Mother Clare distributed questionnaires asking for a wide range of information about each order, including membership, living arrangements, the ministries in which members participate and spiritual life, including the practice of prayer and the frequency of Mass.
Cardinal Rode said the information gleaned from “the standard, objective data” regarding membership, living arrangements, governance and ministries of the members of the religious orders would be made public “and should provide important information regarding the likely future trends of religious life in the US.”
Beyond that, he said, his office “will formulate no conclusions or plan of action, if any, until the final report of the visitator has been evaluated.”