No Punishment for " Rebel" Nuns in the U.S.

By Giacomo Galeazzi
Vatican Insider
January 13, 2012

A group of nuns

The Vatican's inspection of the female religious institutes in the U.S.A has softened

Three years ago, the former cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life had started the inspections to look into the "styles of life" of nuns in the United States. After the Vatican received reports of serious problems of doctrinal disobedience and failure to adhere to the Catholic Church's Magisterium, Cardinal Rodé entrusted Mary Clare Millea, the American mother superior of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with the task of shedding light on the issue. Proof of this "ultra-liberal" drift was the fact that U.S. convents were pointing out groups of nuns who were giving the "go-ahead" to Obama's health reforms which included women's right to abortion. Visitations proceeded amid the protests of some nuns' associations who complained of their religious orders' loss of independence as a result of being subjected to the "Holy See's modern Inquisition." Meanwhile, in Rome, changes were being made to the leadership of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life. The first arrival was that of 59 year old Mgr. Joseph William Tobin from Detroit, formerly superior general of the Redemptorist fathers, who took up his post as the new Secretary of the Vatican dicastery.

He immediately put the U.S nuns at rest with regards to the effects of the Visitation underway, softening its impact before it had even concluded. Cardinal Rodé yielded his post to João Braz de Aviz, former archbishop of Brasilia. And now that the inspection is over, there seems to be a willingness on the part of the Congregation, to create ties with the nuns and to help them improve in a constructive manner without appearing as an external censor whose sole purpose is that of correcting errors. Despite this new portrayal of the Visitation, it appears that not everything has gone smoothly: indeed, it seems that at least a third of U.S. female convents have not opened its doors to the Vatican, which set up its Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Society of Apostolic Life on December 22nd, 2008.

Right from the word go, the inspection has been met with criticism and suspicion within American monasteries. All the more so since Cardinal Franc Rodé, who was Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and for the Societies of Apostolic Life at the time, cited "feminism" as one of the reasons for the Visitation.

The Slovenian prelate's recent retirement led to his substitution by the Brazilian focolarino, João Braz de Aviz. The American, Joseph Tobin, was appointed as the dicastery's number two man. After he took up his post, he gave assurance that the purpose of the inquiry was not to punish and that the Holy See would take the nuns' objections into account. The visit was conducted under the leadership of Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, appointed apostolic visitor by Rodé. Mother Millea recently presented Mgr. Tobin with a general report on the facts and observations collected during inquiries and meetings that lasted almost two years, which will come of use for the drafting of the visit's conclusions.

The first individual reports for each of the 400 religious institutions whose cases are being studied, together with a general report. The remainder should arrive by this coming spring. The content of the report is confidential but Mother Millea said she was satisfied with the results of the research: "The apostolic visit aroused widespread interest and this attention led to a renewed appreciation for the role of the nuns within the Church and society and stimulated dialogue and mutual awareness among the different communities in the U.S.," the mother declared in a note. "I bear witness daily to joy and hardship in my community. But being able to witness in person the persevering vocation of nuns in the U.S., in their ministries and in their faith. Seeing the fruits of their service was encouraging."

Although religious life has problems that need to be dealt with, it is still marked by loyalty, joy and hope," Mother Millea concluded.

"The Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Society of Apostolic Life – the director of the Vatican newsroom, Fr. Federico Lombardi stated – is studying the report and it is therefore too early to expect comments from the Congregation itself." But after an appropriate analysis has been carried out – Fr. Lombardi said – we can expect the Congregation to give its evaluation of the results of the Visitation."


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