Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times found some compelling evidence that a Vatican investigation into the lives of American nuns is really just an effort to force them out of participation in modern life.
The biggest investigation is called an Apostolic Visitation, which Vatican Cardinal Franc Rodé ordered Mother Mary Clare Millea (right) - the head of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Rome - to head up after he gave a speech last year criticizing some American nuns of being women "who have opted for ways that take them outside" of the Church. Millea and Rodé claim the Visitation is intended to look into the "quality of life" of American nuns — mind you, this is the same church that is selling off nunneries in order to finance the many judgments brought against it over the abuse of children by priests — a reasoning, to people who don't know their Church history but know a few nuns, sounds reasonable. Only it's not.
Church historians said that the Vatican usually ordered an apostolic visitation when a particular institution had gone seriously astray. In the wake of the priest sexual-abuse scandal, the Vatican ordered a visitation of American seminaries. It is now conducting a visitation of the Legionaries of Christ, a men's order whose founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, sexually abused young seminarians, fathered a child and was accused of financial improprieties. He died in 2008.
So, yeah, right, "quality of life."
Millea swears it's not about forcing nuns to stop some of their more worldly (i.e., outside the Church hierarchy) work — like, say, caring for the poor. In fact, she says:
"It's an opportunity for us to re-evaluate ourselves, to make our reality known and also to be challenged to live authentically who we say we are," she said.
Each congregation of nuns will be evaluated based on how well they are "living in fidelity" both to their congregation's own internal norms and constitution, and to the church's guidelines for religious life, Mother Clare said. For instance, if a congregation's stated mission is to serve youth, are the nuns doing that? If they do not live in a convent, are they attending Mass and keeping the sacraments? Are their superiors exercising adequate supervision?
Which would, of course, be all well and good if Millea and her investigators were giving their questionnaires to and interviewing all American nuns. But, of course, they're not:
The visitation focuses only on nuns actively engaged in working in society and the church, not cloistered, contemplative nuns.
So as long as the nuns are keeping their heads down and their noses out of modern life, their "quality of life" isn't important? Or is the investigation, as some American nuns who aren't cloistered suspect, just a way to get them to change how they view their service to God — particularly, the parts where they're not beholden enough to the all-male hierarchy of the Church?
At least one nun is convinced this is all an exercise in getting some nuns to change their activities.
"They think of us as an ecclesiastical work force," said Sister Sandra M. Schneiders, professor emerita of New Testament and spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, in California. "Whereas we are religious, we're living the life of total dedication to Christ, and out of that flows a profound concern for the good of all humanity. So our vision of our lives, and their vision of us as a work force, are just not on the same planet."
Other nuns wonder why they're being singled out — and why legitimate issues about their welfare and well-being (and the physical infrastructure afforded their communities) aren't part of this investigation into the "quality" of their lives.
Sister Janice Farnham, a part-time professor of church history at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, said, "Why are the U.S. sisters being singled out, when women religious in other countries are struggling with many issues about the quality of their lives, in the Church and in their societies?"
I think Schneiders knows the answer to that: because American nuns have been naughty, and it's time to shut them up, and seal them in.
U.S. Nuns Facing Vatican Scrutiny [NY Times]