Vatican contacting about 15 orders of US sisters for 'serene' dialogue

by Joshua J. McElwee

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The Vatican's congregation for religious life is contacting about 15 U.S. orders of Catholic sisters to clarify "some points" following the controversial six-year investigation of American communities of women religious, the head of the congregation said in a brief interview Tuesday.

Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, said the conversations involve "listening to what they say in a transparent way, without fear, without judging."

"What I have liked most is that the climate of this dialogue is very serene," Braz de Aviz said. "There is listening on both sides. There is a rapport."

The cardinal spoke to NCR after his congregation requested that the leaders of the Kentucky-based Sisters of Loretto, one of the major orders of U.S. Catholic women religious, come to Rome in October.

As Global Sisters Report first reported, Loretto president Sr. Pearl McGivney has been asked to explain "ambiguity" in the order's adherence to church teaching and its way of living religious life.

Related update June 15: 'Friendly letter' from Vatican asks another US congregation for clarification

The investigation of U.S. sisters' communities, known formally as an apostolic visitation, began in 2008 and concluded with release of a final report in December 2014. Braz de Aviz was appointed to the Vatican congregation in 2011.

Braz de Aviz said he was not immediately aware of the specifics of the Loretto sisters' case but said: "What we are doing now is when we concluded the visitation in the United States ... there remained some congregations [with whom] we had to speak, have dialogue with, on some points."

"We have already spoken now with -- I think -- four or five," he said. "We have to speak still with another 10 or so."

It is not yet known which other orders of U.S. women religious have been contacted by the Vatican congregation.

The cardinal also acknowledged that some U.S. sisters have expressed frustration with the beginning of the apostolic visitation process, saying it initially did not involve dialogue with them or  consideration of their history in leading and supporting the U.S. Catholic church.

"We know the problems with the beginning of the visitation," Braz de Aviz said. "Before was not good."

"I would say [the follow-up] is being done with more attention because before, it would have been easy to have an unnecessary rift," he said. "Truly, it is not necessary."

The apostolic invitation involved inquiry into 341 female religious institutes in the U.S. that include an estimated 50,000 women.

In a June 9 statement to Global Sisters Report, McGivney said she received a letter from Braz de Aviz on April 15.

According to a letter she wrote to members of her order, which GSR obtained, the Loretto president has been asked to come to Rome on Oct. 18 to report on five "areas of concern" following the visitation process.

The International Union of Superiors General, a Rome-based umbrella group of the leaders of approximately 500,000 Catholic women religious worldwide, said in a statement to NCR on Monday that the request to the Loretto sisters "might be a good opportunity" for the Vatican congregation "to learn more ... from the source."

The group said it could be "an occasion for Loretto Sisters to share and explain their mission and their commitment."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.] 

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