Investigating nuns may be fun,

but we should be sad at this one. Women choosing to live with integrity in a way that responds to the present society and aids the needy in their community and the world may face difficulties for just that.

The current investigation by the Vatican is two-fold. One, an apostolic visitation, is something usually done in response to a serious current problem, though none in this case is obvious. The second investigation is a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which has 1,500 members from about 95 percent of women’s religious orders. This investigation was ordered by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

It all sounds ominous. One worries that current nuns’ lives were not always foreseen by agreements entered into many years ago. If so, they may turn out to be untenable. And the nuns disagreeing with Rome on matters such as the male-only celibate priesthood and the acceptability of homosexual sex may be censured.

If any of our readers is in closer touch with what is going on, please let us know what you think.

8 thoughts on “Investigating nuns may be fun,

  1. You know, the Jender-Parents emailed me about this a while back, and I never got around to blogging it. The short article they sent made it very clear that it was about the nuns being too liberal: . And Mr Jender tells me that the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” is the inheritor of the Inquisition–it fulfils the same role, making sure that people’s faith is “pure” & that church teachings aren’t “heretical”. So no, not good news. But totally predictable from the current Pope, who used to run said CDF.

  2. Thanks, Jender. I put in a link to the Inquisition Congregation, so one can see what it does. The latest in the disciplinary documents states that anyone attempting to ordain a woman and any woman attempting to be ordained will received a major excommunication.

  3. I’m probably not in closer touch with what is going on, but I have been sort of keeping an eye on it.

    The official reason for the apostolic visitation seems to be to investigate the “quality of life” among religious institutions in the U.S.; if so, it’s probable that the problem being investigated is the sharp decline in religious orders and societies for women over the past few decades, which indeed has been a matter of major concern. At least, that’s what investigations into “quality of life” of religious institutions has been in the past. As far as I know the Apostolic Visitator, Mother Mary Clare Millea, hasn’t suggested anything, either herself or through her spokespersons, that would indicate that the investigation is disciplinary. But there’s a lot that’s still unknown.

    The separate investigation of the LCWR is much less mysterious; it almost certainly covers three points:

    (a) conformity to Ordinatio sacerdotalis, which is the ordination of women issue;
    (b) the position of the LCWR on homosexuality;
    (c) conformity to Dominus Jesus.

    The LCWR, which has been in trouble before (fairly regularly since the 70s, in fact), has usually been able to cover itself pretty well on points (a) and (b) without much retreat in its positions. But (c) may be a serious problem, because it may be what has pushed forward the assessment in the first place, and could really get the LCWR in trouble. Several representatives of the LCWR are said to have made comments about the organization being “post-Christian” and having moved “beyond the Church, beyond Jesus”; if it sticks this is not the sort of thing even progressive members of the Curia (and the LCWR does continue to have some friends in the Curia with a bit of influence) can pull strings to get overlooked.

    But it’s hard to say at this point what the result will be on either account.

  4. As Brandon says, “[t]here is a lot that’s still unknown”, and on reading the NYT article the first time, I found it strange that the tone of the article seemed so ominous when there is apparently no public information about the intent behind it.

    On re-reading, though, two points give me serious pause: one is that “[t]he visitation focuses only on nuns actively engaged in working in society and the church, not cloistered, contemplative nuns”, which implies that the Vatican believes “quality of life” is not an issue in cloistered orders. This seems to me to be an unfair assumption to make, particularly if a motivation for the investigation is the decline in religious orders.

    The other is that sisters living outside convents are being asked “are they attending Mass and keeping the sacraments?” which seems to me to be a profound insult to women who have dedicated their lives to the Catholic Church, and furthermore seems indicative that one underlying issue is the Church hierarchy’s concern about losing capacity to exercise control over the lives of women religious.

  5. Many thanks to Brandon – whom I think of as informed by a more benevolent view of the RC church than I – and eninnej, who has raised good questions.

    One point of possible disagreement w/ Brandon: the NYTimes suggests visations are responses to present crises, which the diminishing numbers does not seem to be.

    Secondly, Mother Mary Clare Millea is pretty explicit about the inquiry being into whether nuns are living the authentic lives they say they are. That certainly seems to me a precursor to change, if not actual disciplinary actions.

    Of course, it is possible that they’ll discover that they’re all as authentic as one could wish. In which case, it is hard to understand what could have set off the investigation.

  6. Digging around, it turns out that the Apostolic Visitation has its own website.

    I do think it’s worthwhile to look at these sorts of actions with a critical eye. (It’s an interesting coincidence that while these inquiries are occurring the canonization cause of Mary Ward, a woman religious who was persecuted by the Church hierarchy itself, has begun to make major progress.) As the old (and very Catholic) saying goes, God gave the Roman Curia for the purpose of working miracles: only by a miracle can the laity survive it. And I think, if carefully done, it’s the sort of thing that it’s great to have feminist philosophers looking at; women religious, who are often outstanding thinkers and even more often extraordinarily active contributors to society, are a demographic of women who too often tend not to get considered.

  7. Just to update so that the topic won’t fall completely off the radar, the visitation has just recently finished. The news release for the completion is here (in PDF). The actual report will only be released to the public much later, after review, probably May-ish.

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