Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious - The Questions

The Apostolic Visitation of U.S. Women Religious has completed its initial phase and an Instrumentum Laboris outlining the scope of work and focus for the remaining phases has been produced. Vatican appointed Visitator, Mother M. Clare Millea, sent the document to all major superiors last week.

The Instrumentum consists of two parts. Part A explains the nature, purpose and procedure of the visitation and Part B details the specific items for consideration during the visitation. A formal questionnaire will be provided to major superiors in September, but the items in Part B of the Instrumentum are said to significantly mirror the concerns in the yet to be produced formal questionnaire.

Mother Clare has asked major superiors to share the Instrumentum with all sisters in their congregations. The sisters themselves are invited to share their thoughts on Part B confidentially with Mother Clare.

The formal questionnaire is to be filled out in writing by each major superior and returned in November. Following that, site visits to selected religious houses will be performed. Here are the reflection questions from the Instrumentum (commentary follows):

1. Identity of your religious institute (Vita Consecrata, 1-5; 14-40; 87-91; Starting Afresh from Christ, 5-13; The Service of Authority and Obedience, 4-11; The Code of Canon Law, cann. 573-606)

A. What is the understanding of religious life in your institute in light of its charism within the Church?
B. What understanding of religious life is taught to prospective and current members of your institute?
C. How are ecclesial documents integrated into your theological understanding of religious life?
D. What are your concerns about the future of your religious institute in living its charism in the Church?
E. How do sisters in your institute understand and express the vow and virtue of poverty? To whom are they accountable for the observance of the vow?
F. How do they understand and observe the vow and virtue of chastity? How is their consecration positively expressed?
G. How do they understand and express the vow and virtue of obedience? To whom are the sisters accountable for the observance of the vow?
H. Do the sisters take other/additional vows? If so, how do they live this/these out?
I. Has your institute been involved in, is it now involved in or are you now planning a reconfiguration, federation, merger or union with another congregation or other congregations? If so, how has this integration affected the quality of the life of the institute and of the sisters themselves?
J. Is your institute moving toward a new form of religious life? If so, how is this new form specifically related to the Church’s understanding of religious life?

2. The governance of your religious institute (Vita Consecrata, 46, 49, 56; Starting Afresh from Christ, 14; The Service of Authority and Obedience, 12-15, 27-30; The Code of Canon Law, cann. 587; 617-633; 589-595)

A. Is the form of Government in your institute in accord with requirements of the Church regarding superiors, chapters, elections, religious houses etc.?
B. How is the form of government as stated in your Constitutions effectively operative in your institute?
C. To what extent is this form of governance evident in the daily, ongoing life of sisters in your institute?
D. In what way are non-members, including “associates,” involved in the governance of the institute?
E. What is the process of consultation employed for gathering input and opinions from sisters prior to decision making on significant matters?
F. Do superiors treat all sisters with fairness and genuine concern and deal compassionately with those who experience difficulties or hold divergent opinions?
G. What is the process for responding to sisters who dissent publicly or privately from the authoritative teaching of the Church?
H. What is the process for responding to sisters who disagree publicly or privately with congregational decisions, especially regarding matters of Church authority?

3. Vocation promotion, admission and formation policies (Vita Consecrata, 64-71; Starting Afresh from Christ, 15-19; The Service of Authority and Obedience, 13, 25; The Code of Canon Law, cann. 641-661)

A. Are specific policies, procedures and criteria for admission to the institute clearly specified and followed by those responsible for guiding candidates and admitting new members?
B. Does your formation program offer your members the foundations of Catholic faith and doctrine through the study of Vatican II documents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and post-Conciliar documents?
C. How do your initial and on-going formation programs integrate the most recent documents of the Church concerning religious life?
D. Do you find your ongoing formation programs adequate and helpful for living your charism effectively in the Church today?
E. Are there reasons to be concerned about vocations or formation in your institute?

4. Spiritual life and common life (Vita Consecrata, 41-45, 47, 93-95, 103; Starting Afresh from Christ, 20-32; The Service of Authority and Obedience, 16-22; The Code of Canon Law, cann. 602; 607-616; 662-665)

A. How do you express the reality that the Eucharist is the source of the spiritual, communal and ministerial life of the individual sisters and your institute as a whole?
B. How does your institute express its commitment to strengthening common life through the common celebration of the Eucharist, common prayer, and the sharing of gifts and resources in common?
C. Are daily Mass and frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance a priority for your sisters?
D. Do the sisters of your institute participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy according to approved liturgical norms?
E. Do the sisters pray the Liturgy of the Hours according to your Constitutions using books approved by the Church?
F. Do sisters of your institute study and put into practice the approved religious and spiritual exercises which are indicative of your specific charism in the Church?
G. How does the manner of dress of your sisters, as specified in the proper law of your religious institute, bear witness to the dignity and simplicity of your vocation?
H. What are the current provisions for care of aging and ill sisters and what is your institute’s future plan for their care?

5. Mission and ministry (Vita Consecrata, 55, 63, 72-83, 96-109; Starting Afresh from Christ, 33-45; The Service of Authority and Obedience, 23-26; The Code of Canon Law, cann. 669; 671; 673-683)

A. What is the specific apostolic purpose of your institute as stated in your Constitutions?
B. Do you see the present apostolic endeavors of your religious institute as viable and effective expressions of your charism and mission?
C. Which current apostolic projects best represent the focus and purpose of your charism?
D. What means are being taken to ensure that the charism of the congregation will continue in the case of diminishing presence of your sisters in congregation owned or sponsored institutions?
E. What are your institute’s expectations for ministry in the future?

6. Financial administration (Vita Consecrata, 63; Starting Afresh from Christ, 19; The Code of Canon Law, cann. 586; 634-640; 668; 670)

A. What is your institute’s approach to stewardship of resources and financial administration?
B. How are individual sisters, including those in positions of authority, accountable for good stewardship of resources?
C. What are your financial concerns for your institute?
D. Has the institute transferred ownership or control of any property in the past ten years? Does it anticipate any further transfer of ownership or control of ecclesiastical goods? If so, has it been done according to Church norms? Have the members in the institute been a part of the process?
That last question is often overlooked as most observers of the visitation are focused on issues of doctrine, community life and vocations. The recent case of Notre Dame Academy in Virginia, I think, illustrates the concern in question 6 D.

Notre Dame Academy is a college prep. founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in Middleburg, VA in 1965. In 1994, the sisters sold the school to a non-profit run by a lay board of trustees. Since then, the lay board has decided it no longer wanted to comply with Diocese of Arlington guidelines with respect to the operation of schools calling themselves Catholic.

The diocese stood its ground and in response, the lay board changed their bylaws and as of July 1 this year, Notre Dame Academy is no longer a Catholic School. They will also soon change their name to reflect that fact.

There are any number of similarly situated ecclesial schools in the country, though I'm not aware of others at the high school level that have formally split from the Church once their sponsoring congregations departed.

This is clearly not only a problem for institutions once sponsored by women religious. Any number of colleges founded by male religious could also be faulted for a failure of forsight and stewardship in planning for the continued Catholic identity of ecclesial properties they have effectively abandoned.