Have you ever heard a public speaker, a priest, who only looked at one side of his audience?

The Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life had issued a decree on December 22, 2008 that it will begin an Apostolic Visitation or comprehensive study undertaken in order to look into the quality of institutes of women religious in the United States and the life of the members of these religious institutes. The action was initiated by the Congregation’s prefect, Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé, C.M. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the nation’s largest association of Catholic women religious communities, said it was informed of the study in a bulletin on January 30, 2009. Contemplative sisters, who have distinctly different lifestyles, are excluded from the study.

“Speaking on background, leaders among American women’s congregations who travel regularly to Rome to meet with Vatican officials — including Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the office that ordered the visitation — say that not once in these conversations did Rodé or anyone else offer a hint that a visitation might be in the works.” –from the National Catholic Reporter on February 6, 2009

In 2006, the Vatican organized a visitation of seminaries which house men in formation. Recently the Vatican issued its final report which seemed to suggest concern about formation for religious. In the “general conclusions” in section II, it was stated:
“It was also noted that, in some academic centers run by religious, there is a certain reticence, on the part of both students and teachers, to discuss the priestly ministry. Instead, there is a preference for discussing simply ‘ministry’ — in the broad sense, including also the various apostolates of the laity — in part, perhaps, as a mistaken attempt not to offend those who judge the reservation of the Sacrament of Orders to men alone as discriminatory.”

Findings will show most nuns are elderly, most orders are quickly falling apart, most orders have very few resources for growth, and young women avoid joining or leave because they get a hard time from the hierarchy when anything they do even hints at feminism.

It is hard to be supportive of this church that continues to collect money for corporal works of mercy but this year did not even bother to raise money for the infirm aged nuns, ignoring the burden of all the retired Sisters in need of health care. It has been reported that by 2023, religious orders may face more than $20 billion in unfunded retirement liabilities. What kind of leadership would ignore their own?

The old monarch of the papal states, the pope in Vatican City, had no accountability to his people. There never had been a Magna Carta, despite the political and religious scandals which occurred between 1300 and 1600. The recent sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church showed that from the Pope on down, there was a failure to respond when archbishops could not police their own force, in Canada, in Ireland, in the United States, and who knows where else at the end of the 20th Century? The management of the church by John Paul II was compelled by secular courts to change. Otherwise, it seems fair to say that failure to respond to sexual abuse by priests would have continued.

So what really had changed in Rome? The institution that needed the threat of a secular court to change.

The humonguous financial cost to funds, which should have gone to corporal works of mercy to take care of retired nuns, or to educate the next generation in what is a very academic religion. Little attention week in and week out is addressed to this priesthood issue in the changing world. And this comprehensive study, this review of the sisters announced just before the annual World Day for Religious which the Church observes on February 2nd, is to be a look into the quality of institutes of women religious in the United States. This study undertaken seems to hope to return the Catholic world to another age. But the world had changed.

At a 2008 conference at Stonehill College, Cardinal Franc Rodé said that some orders of nuns seemed to have “simply acquiesced to the disappearance of religious life,” while others had distanced themselves from the life of the Catholic Church.

The nuns had quit trying? Was it just the nuns who had trouble passing on the tradition, of sharing the accumulation of wealth, of culture? The power structure had changed very little over the years. My 69-year old aunt is a former nun, educated after high school with a class of 46 nuns. Of her 46 classmates, only 6 had remained nuns their entire life. The forty HAD quit trying. A long time ago. This limited statistics would seem to suggest a polarization of woman which has continued. Papal authority seemed to be based upon power rather than authentic love. Have they simply acquiesced to the status quo? To the male leadership in the Roman Catholic Church who had never listened in their lifetime? Women who had never felt accepted as equal, a basic quest of all people.

In the political world, leaders were expected not only to address hunger but to do something about a problem. And these were long ongoing problems. In the real world, if leaders did not do an adequate job, they were replaced.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had been quoted in the years before he was elected pope that the Church of Rome was to big, and was in need of being pruned back. In a sense, this was a leader who seemed to be asking what it meant to be Catholic, in a view of the politics within the Church. And he seemed to only be interested in preaching to one side of the church.

Old men often had hearing problems but in the modern age this deficit could be tackled. But the elderly had to admit that they had a problem. Dealing with loss. Dealing with change.



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