Friday, December 4, 2009

Archbishop John Nienstedt: Why a visitation of women religious?

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In my last column for The Catholic Spirit, I made mention of Mother Mary Clare Millea, ASCJ, who has been appointed by the Vatican’s Congregation for Consecrated Life and Secular Institutes to coordinate the current visitation of women religious in the United States.

The purpose of the visitation is to preserve and foster religious, consecrated life in this country so as to promote the life-giving works that flow from the respective charisms of each congregation or secular institute.

Most secular professions have periodic evaluations to determine if they are meeting the goals of their respective mission. In the world of academia, this is done through accreditation visits wherein peers of the same profession evaluate the programs of a college or university to determine if they measure up to their intended standards.

Such evaluations are essential in the life of an institution as it seeks to improve and move forward. I believe the same reasoning applies to the present apostolic visitation.

Dramatic changes

Every objective observer knows that religious life has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. New ministries have been founded and good works have flourished in areas of education, social services and health care, not to mention many others.

At the same time, the number of women entering consecrated religious life has fallen dramatically. In order to ensure that the invaluable witness of consecrated women religious continues into the future, some evaluation of the situation at this time seems logical, if not overdue. This, I believe, is what has prompted the present visitation.

A few persons have written to me expressing a concern that this action is punitive and judgmental. They fear it demeans women religious. I disagree. This is not an interrogation or even an investigation, but an evaluation. The documents requesting information are the same for all. The questions are public for all to see.

One concerned couple wrote to chastise me for allegedly giving a million dollars of archdiocesan money to support this project. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!

Where do people come up with such false information? In point of fact, I gave not a penny of archdiocesan monies to this project, primarily because we don’t have it to give. Believe me, if there were a million dollars lying around, I would put it toward reducing our own indebtedness! Of that, you can be sure!

Thankful for ministry

I remain grateful to the women religious who have positively influenced my vocation to the priesthood as well as those with whom I have had the privilege to minister in three different dioceses where I have served.

I firmly believe that the results of the present apostolic visitation will only en­hance their witness and good works as we move together into the future. Catholic Spirit
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