Next Up: The Nuns
...and at long last, the English fulltext of the Holy See's conclusions.
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At a late-morning Vatican press conference tomorrow, the closing report of the process conducted by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) will be presented, with the heads of both the distinct umbrella-groups for Stateside nuns – the progressive Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the more traditional Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) – together on the podium for its release.
Before anything else, it bears particular emphasis that the CICLSAL process is in no way connected to the ongoing oversight of LCWR being exercised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an arrangement launched in 2012. While the former probe examined each of the nation's 340 communities of non-cloistered sisters in depth, the CDF guidance is solely taken with the national body of the superiors for roughly 80 percent of the US' 50,000 religious women, whose number in full has fallen by one-sixth since 2010 according to CARA figures. (On a key contextual note, though the Pope formally affirmed the CDF's action on LCWR shortly after his election, in comments to a June 2013 private meeting with Latin American religious, Francis advised the group that, should the doctrine office ever seek to look into their activities, "Don't let it bother you.")
According to early indications, the report is expected to deliver a broadly positive and affirming assessment of the work and witness of the nation's sisters... but with one key exception: a reaffirmation of the Vatican's long-standing fury over some communities' exploration of cosmic theories not in keeping with church teaching.
For their part, the religious themselves have already begun to ready the ground for a once-unthinkable smooth landing. Under a headline trumpeting "Sisters Reevaluate View of Apostolic Visitation," a piece published this morning by the Jesuit-run America magazine quotes a former LCWR president's reflection that "in the end, grace did prevail," while a professor studying the sisters observed that even as the process "began in a very negative place... by the end, there was this sudden outpouring of the Spirit" which birthed a "sense of community, of togetherness, of wholeness" among the sisters.
In terms of Roman stage management, it's telling that the planned set of speakers for the rollout presser will be pointedly balanced between men and women, with the CICLSAL prefect and secretary, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz and Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo OFM being joined by the Visitation's head, Mother Mary Clare Millea, and the respective chiefs of LCWR and CMSWR, Sister Sharon Holland IHM and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan of the New York-based Sisters of Life; the Vatican liaison for English-speaking press, Basilian Fr Thomas Rosica – likewise an aide to the Visitation team – rounds out the group.
With Braz and Rodríguez (above) both major allies of Francis, it was conspicuous that the Pope met alone with the CICLSAL #2 on Friday, ostensibly to prep for tomorrow's event.
At the time of Papa Bergoglio's election, Rodríguez was Minister-General of the Friars Minor (Franciscans), until the current pontiff named him to the Religious post within weeks to succeed the Redemptorist Joseph William Tobin – arguably the sisters' staunchest champion in overseeing the Visitation's close – who was sent home as archbishop of Indianapolis by B16 in the waning days of the last pontificate.
Slated to begin at 11.30 Rome time (5.30am ET), the press conference will be livestreamed, then available on-demand, right on these pages.