So the Vatican has issued its final report on the rebellious nuns in the US. It dresses it up in cuddly language but Mary Hunt at Religion Dispatches is wholly unpersuaded of its cuddliness.
Despite herculean efforts to make nice, the 12-page report and its presentation reinforce the Roman Catholic Church’s patriarchal power paradigm. And although many have hailed the report as a sign of the Vatican’s warming toward women, I am not convinced.
Many will hail anything as a sign of something cuddly, because that’s what they do. The rest of us turn a very yellow eye on Vatican reports.
The first shoe dropped in 2008 when Cardinal Franc Rodé announced an Apostolic Visitation of active women’s religious communities. The goal of the inquiry—akin to a grand jury—was “to look into the quality of life of apostolic Congregations of women religious in the United States.”
The benign-sounding rhetoric was, to those in the know, an unmistakable signal of disapproval of how women religious were living increasingly self- and community-directed lives.
The Visitation was in no way experienced by the subjects or meant by the perpetrators “to convey the caring support of the Church in respectful, ‘sister-to-sister’ dialogue, as modeled in the Gospel account of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth” as one “eyebrow-raising paragraph” in the report asserted—this revisionist history is pure fantasy.
But it sounds so sweet. And it’s Christmas! Can’t we pretend?
While some of the visits were cordial enough, according to reports, there was never any illusion about why they took place or who ordered them. The nuns under study had no part in the overall process, no say in when, whether, and with whom they would share their lives. Instead, they were expected welcome “visitators” into their midst and to engage in data-gathering conversations which would be reported to Rome—and have the privilege of paying for it as well.
The report explains that. It’s about authority, you see.
8. The Service of Authority
The role of superiors has always been of great importance in the consecrated life. The Church has consistently taught that “those who exercise authority cannot renounce their obligation as those first responsible for the community, as guides of their sisters… in the spiritual and apostolic life.” Those entrusted with religious authority must know how to involve their sisters in the decision-making process and, at the same time, remember that “the final word belongs to authority and, consequently, that authority has the right to see that decisions taken are respected” (Vita Consecrata, 43).
Yay authority! Here is Our Bum: now kneel down and kiss it.
Back to RD:
Many of the women’s communities took deep offense at the notion that men in Rome would dispatch underlings to investigate their lives and lifestyles, especially their prayer and ministries. Nonetheless, because women’s religious communities belong to the kyriarchal structure of the church there was pressure to participate or suffer unnamed consequences.
Well that is the nature of the church.