Nun Sense: Women in the Catholic Church
A habited woman speaks.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

LOPEZ: There is an ongoing Vatican-ordered apostolic visitation evaluating women’s religious orders in the United States. Have you been a part of that at all? Is the average sister or nun?

SISTER PRUDENCE: The superior general or leader of each religious congregation is responsible for seeing that each sister in her congregation or institute participates. The extent to which this has occurred would likely vary.

In my own religious community of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, each sister and each local house has already participated in the apostolic visitation in two ways.

First: In each local house, we were invited to write responses to the Lineamenta (or preparatory document sent in to the visitation). This document asked a series of questions and provided Church documents for reference. We downloaded all these documents and considered them in relation to the questions asked and to our daily practices in living our religious life. The responses were typed up and sent to those preparing the report.

Second: After the report was written, drawing from all the suggestions of each local community, one of the members of the General Council came back to each local community sharing (with photocopies given to each sister) the actual documents sent in. In each house she provided opportunities for discussion of the report in whatever detail the sisters wanted.

A third way of participation will happen this spring: Since our institute has been chosen for an on-site visit by the visitation team this coming May, every sister has been invited to be interviewed if she would like, either in person, by Skype, by telephone, or by writing a letter. Every sister was invited to return a signed form directly to the office of Mother Millea by a certain date stating whether she would like to be interviewed and by what means.

This has been a wonderful process of self-review for us. The mother general initiated the very thorough participation of every sister, and the local superior is the one who makes sure that it is carried out in her convent. Since I am the local superior here in Denver (and for our extension in Edwards, Colo.), I have been very much a part of it.

LOPEZ: Does that represent a crackdown from the Vatican? Are some sisters liable to be punished, for instance, for taking issue with the bishops over the health-care bill?

SISTER PRUDENCE: Regular review is a common process for all businesses, professional associations, academic institutions, and governmental agencies such as police, firemen, etc., so it is improper to consider it a “crackdown.” Visitations have been a regular part of the life for centuries. It is prescribed in canon law not only for religious institutes (can. 628, 683), but also for seminaries (can. 259), parishes (can. 396, 535), and dioceses (can. 436). As in all reviews, when weaknesses, elements of corruption, or gaps between goals and practices are discovered, we are always encouraged to improve and grow in self-knowledge and integrity.