'Friendly letter' from Vatican asks another US congregation for clarification

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

Global Sisters Report has identified another of the 15 communities of U.S. Catholic sisters being asked to provide the Vatican with further clarification in the aftermath of a controversial investigation: The apostolic visitation was announced in 2009, and a final report of the six-year process was released in December 2014.

Sr. Teri Hadro, president of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, said her community received a letter from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in early April asking the sisters for written response to the office's continued concern over the order's "public dissent of Church teaching."

"It's a very friendly letter," Hadro said. "It's just that I think they tend to interpret things as dissent that really aren't dissent."

For example, Hadro continued, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has spent the last decade making abortion its primary cause. Meanwhile, U.S. women religious have focused on issues like food, water and shelter for marginalized populations.

"Because we focus on those issues and not on right to life from conception forward, our silence is being interpreted as dissent," Hadro said. "I don't think that's the understanding that women religious have. We probably have the same top 10 values and priorities as the bishops, but in different order. And it seems to me that there's some beauty in that, because our role in the church is different from that of the bishops."

Last week, the National Catholic Reporter broke the news that the Loretto Sisters were being summoned to Rome for a face-to-face dialogue regarding "areas of concern" in their adherence to church teaching and way of living religious life. NCR and GSR have since learned that the Vatican has requested some manner of clarification from 15 U.S. communities.

Hadro declined to share all of the recommendations the Vatican made to her community, but she said one of the recommendations was that the sisters "engage in the study of" Pope Francis' environmental encyclical, Laudato Si' — a request Hadro said proves how much miscommunication has happened during the apostolic visitation process.

"The fact of the matter is, our sisters were reading and discussing Laudato Si' before it was even available in hard copy," she said. "So for us, that recommendation doesn't make any sense because we've already done it."

Ultimately, Hadro said she thinks the Vatican is requesting additional information from certain communities because it invested so much time, energy and money into the original investigation. Furthermore, she said, there's been a lot of personnel turnover in the six years since the first investigation began, and those currently serving in the Vatican's congregation for religious life likely have some obligation to appease their predecessors.

"They may not be in office anymore, but they're still around," she said.

Yet Hadro said she's not angry or resentful about this turn of events. She said her community will provide the Vatican with a written response to its concerns, and the community will seek advice as they do so. Hadro added that she, personally, welcomes the opportunity to dialogue with Vatican officials because she said a lot of this is simply misinterpretation.

"I think the European understanding of religious life, the hierarchic understanding of religious life, and the understanding of religious life from inside a women's congregation in the United States are three different understandings," she said. "This whole process is a demonstration of what happens when the three parties start to look at the same thing, but not necessarily in dialogue. It's been complex."

[Dawn Araujo-Hawkins is a Global Sisters Report staff writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. Her email address is daraujo@ncronline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @dawn_cherie.]