On Dec. 16, the Vatican will release the final report from its 2010 investigation of American women religious. Since the investigation, or apostolic visitation, was announced in 2009, it has been met with indignation from many U.S. Catholics.
NCR columnist Kate Childs Graham began collecting letters of gratitude to U.S. women religious with the intent to send copies to Mother Mary Clare Millea, the appointed apostolic visitor. Loretto Sr. Maureen Fiedler wrote that the visitation was troubling and that she was "appalled."
Many Catholics also joined online communities to voice their opposition. For example, in the Facebook group "I Support Catholic Sisters and Nuns," one member said the visitation was an outrageous attempt by a "threatened" patriarchy to check a group of women who had eclipsed male clergy by ministering at the margins of society with the "potency of the feminine religious voice in a world so sorely in need of that voice."
But while this specific visitation remains controversial, apostolic visitations in and of themselves are not uncommon. In fact, some scholars and theologians -- including Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary sister and The Power of Sisterhood editor Mary Ann Zollmann -- point to the New Testament and St. Paul's visits to Asia Minor as their model. Also, in the Middle Ages, papal representatives routinely made visits to Catholics throughout Christendom, though religious communities became exempt from these visits in the 11th century.