Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Nuns' Visitation... On the Bishops' Dime

As the Apostolic Visitation of the nation's womens' communities enters its second phase, the Holy See has asked the US bishops to foot the controversial inquest's proposed budget of $1.1 million.

Broken yesterday by the National Catholic Reporter, news of the funding pitch -- made to the bishops in a July letter from the Vatican's lead overseer of religious, Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé CM -- has provoked a fierce outcry from critics of the three-year study:
Since the Vatican announced the study last December, it has never publicly stated how much it estimates the comprehensive inquiry will cost or who will pay for it. A Vatican document sent to the heads of U.S. women’s congregations last summer suggested that those chosen for on-site visitations defray costs by paying for and hosting visitation teams, “and, if at all possible, transportation costs related to the visit.”...

Rodé’s July letter came in the form of a general appeal to U.S. bishops. It was addressed: “Your Eminence/Your Excellency” and began with an explanation: “My dear brother bishops in the United States, as you are aware, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, in an audience on Nov. 17, 2008, authorized an apostolic visitation of the principal institutes of apostolic women religious in the United States.”

His letter went on to say, “We count on your support in this effort to:
  • “look into the quality of the life of apostolic women religious in the United States
  • “learn more about the varied and unique ways in which apostolic women religious contribute to the welfare of the church and society
  • “assist the church to strengthen, enhance and support the growth of the apostolic congregations to which approximately 59,000 women religious in the United States belong.”
The letter said, “May I suggest that the donations you wish to make be sent to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life [CICLSAL], 00120 Vatican City State, Europe. Please specify that it is to be used for the ‘Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States.’ ”

Since the Vatican announced the investigation it has had both supporters and critics among women religious. Those favoring the study point to a decline in numbers among women religious as well as a relative independence from Rome as they carry out their apostolic missions. Those critical of the study say it is unnecessary, demeaning, deflects focus from more pressing problems among the clergy, and is being carried out in secrecy. When the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization for 95 percent of U.S. women religious, met in New Orleans in August, it called upon the Vatican to be transparent in conducting the study and open in sharing results before any recommendations are made.

The Vatican apostolic visitation working paper, officially called an instrumentum laboris, specifies that [lead Apostolic Visitor Mother Mary Clare] Millea is to be responsible for transmitting a detailed and confidential report to the Vatican congregation upon completion of the study.
With the process' initial phase -- Millea's outreach to the superiors -- now completed, earlier this month saw the start of its second element as each institute received a detailed questionnaire on its life, apostolate and procedures of governance.

Upon the completion of the form, the Visitor and her team will select a limited number of orders to receive on-site visits. Each of the nearly 350 communities, however, will be individually reported on to CICLSAL.