Recently I had an opportunity to lead the discussion following the screening of the film, "Band of Sisters," which I am in. It tells the story of how we women religious became involved with various ministries following the Second Vatican Council. It focuses on the emerging works of social justice, political advocacy, the movement toward sustainability and ecological centers and the transformation of consciousness rooted in contemplation. Woven within the film is the challenge women religious faced with the investigations initiated from two different Vatican Congregations.
In January 2009, historian and Sister of Mercy of the Americas Dolores Liptak got a call from Mother Mary Clare Millea. Millea had just been asked to head the apostolic visitation to U.S. women religious, and in preparation for the task, she wanted to know more about the history of the sisters’ U.S. experience – a topic on which Liptak has edited several books. Last month, Liptak talked to Global Sisters Report about her experience as part of the team.
When Mother Mary Clare Millea, the apostolic visitator to U.S. women religious, took the microphone at the press conference presenting the visitation’s final report, her address proved just how emotional the three-year visitation process had been. Holding back tears, she thanked the report’s authors – Cardinal João Bráz de Aviz and Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo – for hearing sisters’ voices and concerns.
The Vatican report on the Apostolic Visitation has been well-received by LCWR and the many orders that were visited during this process. I have walked with the sisters during these years of the investigatory processes initiated by the Vatican prior to Pope Francis. The perspectives I offer here are based on my work in the field of leadership for over 40 years, and my unending appreciation of the sisters. One of the key predictors of an organization's future fate is how it deals with crises.
Commentary - So much has already been said about the content of the report from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. I want to delve a bit below the surface of both the process and the text itself to engage what I think are some of the deeper issues and concerns and hopes that invite and challenge us for the future.
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.
The Vatican’s report on the apostolic visitation released Tuesday was an affirmation of women religious in the United States – but was it yet another possible sign of a change in tone at the highest levels of the Catholic church? With its calls for dialogue and collaboration – and a nod toward greater decision making by women – the report follows October’s Synod on the Family, where open debate of topics that had not previously been up for discussion appeared to signal to some a sea change in how the Vatican operates.
Tuesday, the Vatican released the final report from the three-year apostolic visitation to U.S. women religious – and largely to praise. Many people, both religious and lay, celebrated the report’s conciliatory language, calling the document an olive branch and a step forward in mending the relationship between women’s congregations and the Vatican. But the sentiment wasn’t universal.
The Vatican has an archived copy of the press conference from Dec. 16 at the Vatican where the apostolic visitation report was released and discussed, and Rome Reports has three short video interviews of key players: Mother M. Clare Millea, Sr. Sharon Holland and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan. Filmmaker Melissa Regan, who is making a Nuns on the Bus movie, talked to Sr. Simone Campbell about the report, too.
Commentary - The apostolic visitation, which sowed much division and cast a dark shadow over the lives and work of U.S. women religious for nearly six years, is finally drawing to an end. Beleaguered as we are, for this we should express gratitude. To quote from T.S. Eliot: "Not with a bang but a whimper."
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