The apostolic visitation report was laudatory, but the sisters remain caught in ambiguity

This article appears in the Apostolic Visitation feature series. View the full series.

Well, I'll admit it, the Vatican's apostolic visitation report has been on my mind. For over two years, my community's leadership diverted precious time, energy and resources away from sorely needed ministry to the marginalized to address a searching Vatican inquiry that we had neither chosen nor had a part in shaping.

Over these past stressful years, my feelings veered widely from anxiety, to sorrow, to anger, to pain. I was regularly sustained, however, by various sister leaders around the U.S. who, although also deeply affected, seemed imbued with an impressive calm.

So when I heard the congregation for religious would live stream a press conference to report on their findings, I knew I wanted to hear what U.S. sister leaders thought about it all first, if I could.

Fortunately, just a week earlier, on the auspicious Dec. 8 Mary feast, a group of sister leaders and scholars held a public book launch in Chicago for Power of Sisterhood: Women Religious Tell the Story of the Apostolic Visitation. (Note: The book deals only with the apostolic visitation. It does not address the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious also announced in 2009.)

As luck would have it, one of my housemates had a copy. This book is a quite amazing mélange of empirical data, empowering sisterly solidarity and piercing, poetic theological reflection. Most of all, it is a story of transformation, of making lemonade from the bitterest of lemons, ultimately witnessing that truly, "all things work together unto good for those who love God" (Romans 8:28).

The empirical segment details the impact of the visitation on women's congregations, how various communities responded, and if sisters' attitudes changed over time. I was impressed that 143 of 328 presidents or major superiors in LCWR completed valid surveys for a response rate of 44 percent. An invitation was extended to members of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, but they declined to participate.

Aside from the demeaning decision to publicly launch an apostolic visitation with no prior notice or consultation, the lengthy Vatican questionnaire was the most controversial aspect of the inquiry.

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