Visitation of Nuns Unlikely to Cause “Earthquake”

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

The secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life said he does not expect the results of the ongoing Visitation of U.S. women’s religious communities to cause any dramatic changes in the life of U.S. women religious.

In a recent interview with the National Catholic Reporter about the status of the Visitation that began in 2008, Archbishop Joseph Tobin said it was currently in the third stage of on-site visitations to communities and was “not as bad as some people thought it would be.”

” . . .(I) would be very surprised if anybody would purport to give any punitive or overly prescriptive norms as a result of this visitation,” he said. “If the visitors, in dialogue with the sisters, have identified some specific issues that need to be dealt with, okay. But forcing people into habits or something like that? That’s not what this is about.”

He also told the NCR that the Visitation caused deep anger and hurt among the sisters, an issue he feels needs to be addressed.

“I think my dicastery and others have to hear the experience of women religious, and women religious too have to hear the experience of pastors and this dicastery. We have to try to heal what can be healed,” he said.

Some of this discontent was caused by what the sisters perceived to be an overly secretive process. This is why the Archbishop promised to “strongly advocate” for feedback for the sisters and their right to reply to the findings.

” . . . (I) can say that my experience of visitations, having done them for 18 years in seventy countries, is that there always is feedback … always,” the Archbishop said. “That’s a respectful part of the dialogue, and it also makes sure that the visitation isn’t a flash in the pan, or what’s worse, some sort of trauma that’s unresolved. You don’t want people to feel like they’ve been punched but they don’t know what it was all about.”

After the completion of stage three, reports are expected to be delivered to the Vatican throughout 2011, which will mark the formal end of the process.

When asked if he thought the Visitation would cause an “earthquake” in women’s religious life in the U.S., he said no.

“I think that would be really disrespectful of what women religious in America have accomplished. Anyway, earthquakes in religious life generally don’t work out very well. Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Jesuits, for example, and in retrospect that wasn’t a very good idea!”

Tobin, 58, grew up in Detroit and served two terms as Superior General of the Redemptorist order prior to his Vatican appointment in August. He’s been in his new job since September and is expected to play a key role in shaping the Vatican’s response to the Visitation.

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