Vatican dialogue with U.S. women religious continues, cardinal says

Heads of women's religious orders attend an audience with Pope Francis in May. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Heads of women’s religious orders attend an audience with Pope Francis in May. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — More than a year after the conclusion of the Vatican’s apostolic visitation of U.S. communities of women religious, the Vatican began asking more than a dozen orders to send their superiors to Rome to discuss concerns that surfaced.

“We did a very positive report at the conclusion of the visitation,” a report that looked at the life of women’s congregations in the United States as a whole and was released in December 2014, said Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

But “there remained about 15 — more or less — congregations that we needed to speak with about a few points,” the cardinal told Catholic News Service June 14. The cardinal had attended a news conference about a new document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith looking at the relationship between the hierarchy and communities or movements that arise from “charismatic gifts.”

“When you are speaking of religious orders, secular institutes and the order of virgins, all of this is part of the charismatic side of the church,” he said. More than 2,000 orders and institutes are recognized by the Vatican as “paths of a special encounter with God,” the cardinal said, but it is the responsibility of bishops and the church’s hierarchy to support and guide them.

When he announced the conclusion of the visitation, Cardinal Braz de Aviz had told the press that “individual reports will be sent to those institutes which hosted an onsite visitation and to those institutes whose individual reports indicated areas of concern — because there are some of those, too.”

Speaking to CNS June 14, the cardinal said, “I don’t know if the Sisters of Loretto are still in the phase of the review of the visitation that the Holy See conducted, but I believe so.”

In early June, the Global Sisters Report said that Sister Pearl McGivney, president of the Sisters of Loretto, had been asked to come to Rome to discuss alleged “ambiguity” in the order’s adherence to church teaching and its way of living religious life.

The cardinal told CNS that his office’s questions were not a judgment and, because the actual site visits took place between 2009 and 2012, “we do not know yet if they are still of concern or not because many years have passed.”

“We are in dialogue” with the congregations, he said. “And it is going very well. We already have spoken with six or seven. It is going very well. It is a serene dialogue, a dialogue to see where and how we can help.”

“We are calling some to Rome in order to better understand,” the cardinal said. “With some there is no longer anything that needs to be done because they already have completed a whole process” of adjusting issues that were of concern to the Vatican. In those cases, he said, “we embrace and get back to work.”

A statement posted June 9 on the Sisters of Loretto’s website said Cardinal Braz de Aviz asked Sister McGivney to “come to Rome to discuss some areas of concern which surfaced during the apostolic visitation process.”

“The Loretto community engaged wholeheartedly in the apostolic visitation process and, through it, affirmed our Loretto charism and our lives together,” the statement said. “Four sisters from other congregations visited us at our motherhouse. They interviewed 90 sisters as well as co-members, students, teachers in our schools and other colleagues. The visitors seemed warm and genuinely interested in our lives. They did not inquire about these ‘areas of concern’ with our elected leadership during this visitation, and we had no expectation that six years later we would find ourselves being asked to come to Rome to address any outstanding issues.”

Still, the statement said, “we are confident that our dialogue with the Vatican will be fruitful.”

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