PHOTO: Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, speaks at a Dec. 16 Vatican press conference for release of the final report of a Vatican-ordered apostolic visitation of U.S. communities of women religious. Mother Millea was the Vatican-appointed director of the visitation. At right is Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
On December 22, 2008, the Vatican’s Congregation for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) announced the Apostolic Visitation of institutes of women religious in the United States. While individual reports will most likely be sent to the institutes who hosted onsite visits and to the institutes where specific areas of concern were identified, the visitation was officially completed with the Congregation’s issuance of its final report on December 16, 2014.
A Visitation, Not an Investigation
According to the official website for the Apostolic Visitation, a visitation “is a formal but personal process, initiated at the highest levels of the Catholic Church, to look into the welfare of a particular aspect of the Church.”
Visitations, as noted in the final report, are a normal instrument of governance in religious life.
In particular, the Apostolic Visitation was directed to those institutes which engage in apostolic ministry and which have a generalate, provincialate, and/or initial formation program. It did not include cloistered contemplative communities. According to the final report, the focus throughout the various phases of the Apostolic Visitation was on the “vocation to religious life as lived by the members of religious institutes who publicly profess the evangelical counsels and exercise some external apostolic work in the United States.”
It is important to note that CICLSAL was clear that the visitation was not connected to the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious being conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The focus of the visitation was individual congregations rather than leadership organizations.
Past, Present, Future
In its final report, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life praised the overall contributions that women religious in the United States have made and continue to make in the Church’s evangelizing mission. In particular, CICLSAL noted their care for the “spiritual, moral, educational, physical and social needs of countless individuals, especially the poor and marginalized;” their educational apostolate in Catholic schools which “fostered the personal development and nourished the faith of countless young people and helped the church community in the USA to flourish;” and their establishment of the great majority of Catholic healthcare systems in the country.
At the same time, CICLSAL expressed the hope that the self-assessment and dialogue sparked by the visitation might contribute to “the revitalization and strengthening of religious institutes in fidelity to Christ, to the Church and to their founding charisms.” The final report also concluded with a call to all the faithful for their support of women religious and for their active promotion of vocations to the religious life.