Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Visitation's Birthday Wish

Lest we forget, gang, a gentle reminder that this Candlemas Day likewise sees the church's World Day for Consecrated Life.

Instituted in 1997 by John Paul II, the annual observance on this 40th day after Christmas is traditionally moved to the following weekend by several national churches (the US included) to garner wider participation.

Either way, let's all take a minute to recognize our religious Sisters, Fathers and Brothers, who so often tackle this church's hardest work... and, indeed, provide its most beloved and respected face in the world.

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That said, last weekend saw another milestone among the professed -- a year since the sudden announcement of an Apostolic Visitation of the nation's communities of apostolic women religious.

Ever since, the Vatican-chartered study has garnered an exceptional amount of coverage for an ad intra story, especially after reports of widespread resistance emerged in the lack of sufficient responses to a questionnaire sent to each the roughly 300 communities as part of the two-year process, which one anonymous sister memorably deemed part of "a cycle of violence" in the pages of the National Catholic Reporter, which has taken the lead in chronicling the story from the get-go.

While the Visitation wouldn't confirm the November reports head-on, a recent letter to the sisters' superiors from the study's head, Mother Mary Clare Millea, indicated her "sadness and disappointment that not all congregations have responded to this phase of dialogue with the church in a manner fully supportive of the purpose and goals of the Apostolic Visitation."

Saying that she had reported her impressions to the Vatican's lead overseer of the professed, Millea reported that Cardinal Franc Rodé CM "encouraged me to ask those who have not yet fully complied to prayerfully reconsider their response."

For its part, the Visitation had already made a notable concession on the questionnaire, striking some elements from it amid expressions of concern in the months following its release. The disregarded portions dealt primarily with the communities' temporal assets.

Come April, however, what's likely to be the most contentious stage of the process is slated to begin as teams appointed by Millea make on-site visits to a number of the communities. The visits will continue through the fall, following which, as sole Visitor, Millea will compile her final report to the Vatican's "Congregation for Religious," where her findings and recommendations will shape whatever definitive action Rome deems necessary as the study's final result.

Shortly after the Visitation's emergence, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith chartered a separate "doctrinal assessment" into the sisters' lead umbrella group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

While the half-century old LCWR includes some 95% of the communities, their total membership only comprises around four-fifths of the nation's 65,000 sisters. The rest -- and, indeed, the majority of the growing orders -- fall under the umbrella of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CSMWR), a more traditional alternative founded in 1992 and given Roman approbation three years later.

Though national bodies for mens' and womens' superiors date back to an impetus of Pope Pius XII, the US is the lone country to have multiple groups for religious of a single gender.

PHOTOS: AP(1), Reuters(2)