Sisters of Mercy also being asked to come to Rome for conversation

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

by Dawn Araujo-Hawkins

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The Sisters of Mercy, the largest order of women religious in the United States, are among the communities being asked to come to Rome for further conversation following the apostolic visitation, Global Sisters Report has learned. The community's communications director, Susan Carroll, confirmed the report by email but said there would be no further comment at this point.

The Vatican's congregation for religious life is contacting about 15 U.S. orders of Catholic sisters to clarify "some points" following the controversial six-year investigation of American communities of women religious, the head of the congregation said June 14.

Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, said the conversations involve "listening to what they say in a transparent way, without fear, without judging."

The cardinal spoke to National Catholic Reporter after it reported his congregation had requested that the leaders of the Kentucky-based Sisters of Loretto come to Rome in October. Loretto president Sr. Pearl McGivney has been asked to explain "ambiguity" in the order's adherence to church teaching and its way of living religious life.

The investigation of U.S. sisters' communities, known formally as an apostolic visitation, began in 2008 and concluded with release of a final report in December 2014. It involved inquiry into 341 female religious institutes in the U.S. that include an estimated 50,000 women.

In a June 9 statement to GSR, McGivney said she received a letter from Bráz de Aviz on April 15. According to a letter she wrote to members of her order, which GSR obtained, the Loretto president has been asked to come to Rome on Oct. 18 to report on five "areas of concern" following the visitation process. The contents of both her letter and the letter from Bráz de Aviz can be found in this earlier GSR report.

Last month, GSR identified two other communities of U.S. Catholic sisters being asked to provide the Vatican with further clarification in the aftermath of a controversial investigation: the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

Sr. Teri Hadro, president of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, said her community received a letter from the congregation 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."

Yet she 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.

Like the Loretto Sisters, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have been asked to appear in Rome. In a statement, posted to their website, the leadership team said they had been invited for a "prayerful conversation" about "a few points mentioned in the letter." The statement did not say what those points were, and congregational leaders declined to say anything beyond the issued statement.

A copy of the subsequent letter sent by leadership to Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet sisters was obtained by GSR, the contents of which can be found here.

It is not yet known which other orders of U.S. women religious have been contacted by the Vatican congregation.

Bráz de Aviz acknowledged that some U.S. sisters have expressed frustration with the beginning of the apostolic visitation process, saying it initially did not involve dialogue with them or consideration of their history in leading and supporting the U.S. Catholic church.

"We know the problems with the beginning of the visitation,"he said. "Before was not good."

"I would say [the follow-up] is being done with more attention because before, it would have been easy to have an unnecessary rift," he said. "Truly, it is not necessary."

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