"I will bring the one third through the fire; I will refine them as one refines silver, and I will test them as one tests gold. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, 'The Lord is my God.'"
- Zechariah 13:9
Being refined and tested by fire is never a comfortable process. So most women religious in the United States were relieved when the Apostolic Visitation came to an end on Dec. 16, 2014.
But they had also been refined, purified and tested. Again and again they told Global Sisters Report they had been changed by the process and changed for the better. Now, as 15 communities are being invited to the Vatican for further discussions on issues discovered during the visitation, some of the same questions are being raised again.
Launched in 2008 by the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL), Vatican officials initially said the apostolic visitation's aim was to study the community, prayer and apostolic life of women's orders in the United States, but later said the investigation was in response to concerns regarding irregularities or omissions in American religious life.
Over the course of six years, however, the leadership of the Vatican congregation conducting the study was replaced by leaders seen as much more friendly toward women religious. When the congregation released its report in December, 2014, it lauded the work and spirituality of women religious, and the few criticisms were carefully couched.
And more importantly, sisters said, they had changed.
"The apostolic visitation broke open the heart of who we are,” said Mary Ann Zollman at the time. Zollman is a Sister of the Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and one of the authors of a book on the visitation, The Power of Sisterhood. "In speaking what we believe, we discovered our true selves."
But almost two years later, congregations of women religious are being invited to the Vatican to discuss issues raised during the visitation — issues many assumed were put to rest with the release of the report.
Is this part two of the investigation? Was all of the praise for women religious merely words?
Or are we too quick to be defensive and too slow to remember what sisters asked for again and again during the process?