02 July 2009

Vatican to Probe US Nunneries

Over the past three decades, the number of nuns in the US has dropped from 180,000 to 60,000. So what does the Vatican decide to do about this? Investigate orders that have adopted a modern lifestyle, including allowing nuns to wear regular garb and engage in professions previously taboo.

The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition....

The more extensive of the two investigations is called an Apostolic Visitation, and the Vatican has provided only a vague rationale for it: to “look into the quality of the life” of women’s religious institutes....

The visitation focuses only on nuns actively engaged in working in society and the church, not cloistered, contemplative nuns....

The investigation was ordered by Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican office that deals with religious orders. In a speech in Massachusetts last year, Cardinal Rodé offered barbed criticism of some American nuns “who have opted for ways that take them outside” the church.

Given this backdrop, Sister Schneiders, [a] professor in Berkeley, urged her fellow sisters not to cooperate with the visitation, saying the investigators should be treated as “uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house.” She wrote this in a private e-mail message to a few friends, but it became public and was widely circulated.

I hope the Cardinal's ambitions succeed. That would only hasten more women turning their backs on Catholicism and the Vatican.

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