Vatican visitation of women religious to look at fidelity to doctrine and charism

.- The Apostolic Visitator leading the visitation to institutes of women religious in the United States has sent the effort’s working document to the heads of U.S. orders. The document details the aims of the visitation and encourages the orders to reflect on their fidelity to their original charisms and their conformity with the Second Vatican Council.

Mother M. Clare Millea, the sister in charge of conducting the Vatican visitation, sent the working document, known as an Instrumentum Laboris, to the hundreds of religious superiors around the U.S. on July 28, along with a letter of explanation. With the issuance of the working document, the first phase of the visitation has come to a close.

The Instrumentum Laboris contains an introduction to the nature and purpose of the visitation, the four phases of the process, and references to the principal Vatican documents.

The document also presents “reflection topics” for all members of religious orders to consider in order to prepare for the visitation. Topics include the religious identity of the respondent’s order, its governance and financial administration, and its spiritual and common life.

Questions are also presented concerning vocation promotion, admission and formation policies.

The reflections ask respondents about their concerns for the future of their religious order and how sisters in their order understand and express the “vows and virtues” of poverty, chastity and obedience. They inquire about whether daily Mass and frequent confession are a “priority” for sisters and how an order expresses the Eucharist as the source of their spiritual and communal life.

Liturgical norms are also one topic of inquiry, as is the practice of the Liturgy of the Hours, the manner of an order’s dress, and the order’s provisions for care of aging and ill sisters.

“Is your institute moving toward a new form of religious life? If so, how is this new form specifically related to the Church’s understanding of religious life?” one reflection asks.

Such questions recall concerns voiced earlier this year by Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, concerning the “tenor and content” of addresses at the annual assemblies of the 1,500-member Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

In the keynote address of LCWR’s 2007 assembly, Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Laurie Brink spoke with apparent approval about religious congregations “moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus.” Saying some congregations have “grown beyond the bounds of institutional religion,” she described them as “post-Christian” in most respects.

The LCWR is undergoing a separate inquiry being led by Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio.

The Instrumentum Laboris reflections also inquire about the process for responding to sisters who dissent publicly or privately from “the authoritative teaching of the Church.”

They ask respondents whether their order’s formation program offers the foundations of Catholic faith and doctrine through the study of Vatican II documents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and post-conciliar documents.

“Are there reasons to be concerned about vocations or formation in your institute?” another reflection asks.

Mother M. Clare Millea’s letter to religious superiors reported that the questionnaire for phase two of the visitation is being prepared and will be sent to major superiors of religious orders early this fall.

She concluded by thanking the leaders of religious orders for their cooperation in the visitation, describing it as an endeavor “to strengthen, enhance and support the growth of our religious institutes in service of the Church.” The website for the visitation contains numerous positive responses about how the various religious superiors appreciated their initial visits with Mother Millea.

The Apostolic Visitation web site is at


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