American Nuns Vatican Report

A report published by the Vatican on Tuesday is the end to a lengthy, in-depth investigation into religious women, the Catholic phrase for nuns, in the United States.

Ordered by Cardinal Franc Rode in 2008, Cardinal Rode stated that the aim was to “study the community, prayer and apostolic life of the orders to learn why the number of religious women” in the states has “declined so sharply since the 1960s.”

Shockingly Positive Considering Past Criticisms

Roughly a year into the investigation, he expressed concerns shared by Vatican officials and US bishops about “irregularities or omissions in American religious life.” He hinted that there were suspicions of a “certain secular mentality” and “feminist spirit.” Other officials said some nuns were lacking in their teachings on abortion and homosexuality while others had become “too involved” in politics. However, the final report held an “encouraging and realistic tone.”

No Critique, Just Guidance and Open Communication

The investigation had nearly 80 investigators visit 90 communities of nuns, and sent detailed questionnaires to 350 communities of religious women. The questionnaires asked questions about their numbers, missions, living arrangements, financial assets, prayer schedules and property. Some communities were suspicious of the surveys intentions, believing the financial and property questions to be the Vatican’s attempt at appropriating their assets. The report spoke of the resistance saying that the “lack of full cooperation was a painful disappointment for us.” The congregation added that “[they] use this present opportunity to invite all religious institutes to accept [our] willingness to engage in respectful and fruitful dialogue with them.”

The report called for attention in specific areas such as forming programs for their new members and harmonizing church teachings about “God, creation, the Incarnation and redemption” in Christ with the church’s doctrine. It reflected Pope Francis’s social justice mind, acknowledging “this apostolic zeal for social justice” among women’s religious.

Sister Sing the Praises

Sister Sharon Holland, the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religion, said at the press conference the Apostolic Visitation was “not a document of blame.” She felt that one “can read the text and feel appreciated and trusted to carry on.” She believes that nuns will feel emboldened by the report. The past president of LCWR, Sister Carol Zinn, felt that the report was “more profound than an olive branch”. She felt the results were the product of change within the church.

“There’s been so much transition in the Vatican’s leadership since the visitation began,” she shared. “This experience has been a learning experience for the entire church. It is possible for the people of God to walk together… people who love the church and give their life to the Gospel realize that we’ve got to find ways to structurally and institutionally work together.”

The authors of the report are hopeful that the women religious will be able to “accept our willingness to engage in respectful and fruitful dialogue with them.”


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