Cardinal Franc Rode issued a statement on Tuesday in response to questions about the motivation for the ongoing apostolic visitation of the women's religious communities in the United States. He said that his dicastery had been considering a visitation for years and that a report on the objective findings will be made public.
As prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life—which is heading up the visitation—Cardinal Rode said that he hopes it will “encourage vocations and assure a better future for women religious.”
The prefect also shared information about the decision-making process that led to the launch of the visitation. “For many years this dicastery had been listening to concerns expressed by American Catholics – religious, laity, clergy and hierarchy – about the welfare of religious women and consecrated life in general, and had been considering an Apostolic Visitation as a means to assess and constructively address these concerns,” Cardinal Rode said.
He also mentioned the September 2008 Symposium on Religious Life which was held on the 200th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Boston at Stonehill College. The gathering, he said, made the “multitude and complexity of these issues” clear and helped him understand that “such an evaluation of the challenges facing individual religious and their congregations could benefit the Church at-large as well as the sisters and institutes involved.”
“My hope,” Cardinal Rode added, “is that the Apostolic Visitation will not only provide the Holy See with a thorough analysis of the condition of religious life in the United States, but also be a realistic and graced opportunity for personal and community introspection, as major superiors and sisters cooperate with this study.”
Cardinal Rode also responded to criticism about the visitations findings being kept private by revealing that the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University is “cooperating in the collection of information and will prepare a composite analytical report of the standard, objective data contained in Part A of the questionnaire. This report will be made public and should provide important information regarding likely future trends of religious life in the United States.”
“It is the practice of the Holy See that an Apostolic Visitation be conducted ad inquirendum et referendum (i.e., studied and referred). Therefore, this dicastery will formulate no conclusions or plan of action, if any, until the final report of the Visitator has been evaluated,” he added.
Commenting on the progress of the visitation thus far, he said that he is “pleased with the voluntary response” that Apostolic Visitator Mother Mary Clare Millea has received from “more than three-fourths of the superiors general.”
The four-stage visitation is now in its second phase, during which the major superiors will respond to a questionnaire presenting a comprehensive profile of each institute’s present reality and future outlook.
Cardinal Rode concluded his statement by stating that he is “encouraged by the efforts to identify the signs of hope, as well as concerns, within religious congregations in the United States, which are also likely to have implications elsewhere in the world. I ask all people of good will to unite in prayer for the fruitful outcome of this effort to promote the Catholic identity and vibrancy of life of women religious.”