Canadian spokesman breaks news at Detroit gathering.
In less than two weeks, the long-awaited final report on women’s religious orders in the United States will be released.
According to Vatican spokesperson Father Thomas Rosica, a press conference will be held at the Vatican December 16. At that press conference, three American nuns will join Vatican officials to publicly reveal the final report of a five-year investigation of congregations of Catholic sisters in the U.S. The inquiry was initiated in 2009 under now-retired Cardinal Franc Rodé, following concerns by many that some congregations of women religious had become too liberal and had abandoned traditional religious lifestyles.
Speaking at the December 16 press conference will be the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institute of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, and the Congregation’s secretary, Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo.
Also participating in the press conference will be three American women religious:
- Sister Sharon Holland, head of the Monroe-based Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) congregation and current president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR);
- Mother Agnes Mary Donovan of the Sisters of Life, who leads the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious; and
- Mother Mary Clare Millea, who led the Apostolic Visitation inquiry for the Vatican.
Father Rosica is president of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario, and serves as a Vatican spokesperson. He told the Detroit Free Press that while he could not divulge contents of the report, he expected it to allay the fears of many Catholic sisters about the investigation. Speaking Tuesday at Detroit’s Catholic Cristo Rey High School, Father Rosica said, "It will hopefully be a very positive message for women religious in the United States…. There were a lot of unfounded fears."
According to the Free Press, Father Rosica promised that the report will be made public online; and he expects the Vatican’s communication office to formally announce next week about the Dec. 16 conference.
The conclusion of the investigation, formally called an "Apostolic Visitation," coincides with Pope Francis’ declaration last week of the "Year of Consecrated Life"—a year during which special emphasis will be given to those who have accepted God’s call to become nuns, priests and brothers.
A separate issue still to be resolved is the ongoing controversy regarding the April 2014 censure of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. CDF Prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller, in explaining Vatican concerns regarding the organization which claims to represent 80% of women religious in the U.S., reiterated the trio of problems cited in the Vatican’s Assessment of the group. Those concerns centered around the speakers at the LCWR Assemblies; the policies of corporate dissent on issues like women’s ordination; and the prevalence of radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR.
Cardinal Müller expressed concern that despite Vatican efforts to bring the group into alliance with Catholic teaching, the LCWR had bypassed the rigorous pre-approval process put in place by the CDF and had announced that it would award its highest honor to Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a theologian whose work has been found by the USCCB Committee on Doctrine to contain “misrepresentations, ambiguities, and errors that bear upon the faith of the Catholic Church as found in Sacred Scripture, and as it is authentically taught by the Church’s universal magisterium.”
While the CDF had focused specifically on Johnson’s most recent work,The Quest for the Living God, her earlier works have also been problematic. For example, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse embraces “the feminine God,” rejecting the Trinitarian formula revealed by Christ in Scripture, in which God is Father.
Kathy Schiffer is a freelance writer and speaker, and her blog Seasons of Gracecan be found on the Catholic Portal at Patheos.