We all know the apostolic visitation of institutes of women religious in the United States has not sat well with certain congregations and prominent religious. We hear complaints about how "demeaning" and "intrusive" is the visitation; we hear the lamentations of liberal religious comparing themselves to victims of battered wife syndrome; we even hear about the "lack of transparency" of a process that has its own website.
Now, it appears the temper tantrum is working itself into a rolling boil. Crows the Non-Catholic Reporter: "The vast majority of U.S. women religious are not complying with a Vatican request to answer questions in a document of inquiry that is part of a three-year study of the congregations. Leaders of congregations, instead, are leaving questions unanswered or sending in letters or copies of their communities' constitutions." In particular, the "vast majority" is annoyed by a three-part questionnaire that seeks information about individual institutes, including vital statistics and -- most offensive of all -- how Catholic the institutes really are. The deadline for responding to the Visitator's questionnaire was November 20th. According to NCR's source, only about half of the responses to the questionnaires have been accounted for, and only 1% of these have been answered as asked.
If it is true that most women religious are refusing to answer this questionnaire, then that right there should tell Rome everything she needs to know about the state of women religious in this country. That some congregations have responded to the visitation by consulting civil lawyers is also very revealing, as well as counter-Scriptural. But just in case Rome doesn't get the point, some of her daughters are driving it home with what apparently passes for "thought" in liberal congregations. Some choice samples from the NCR piece:
-- "What I can say quite clearly is that every leader that I know is trying to answer the survey with integrity. How that integrity works out in each case is up to the wisdom of each leader and her council." Whatever that means.
-- "I feel the response was a thoughtful, respectful response to a very puzzling situation. The purpose of this investigation is unclear to me, given the level of the questions. I have always been proud of our community and the many women who serve God's people. The first sentence of our letter [to Apostolic Visitator Mother Clare Millea, Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus] says it all, 'As apostolic women religious, we are faithful to the call of the Gospel and to our respective charisms.' " Since Vatican II, as demonstrated by additional quotes below, so many women religous have felt free to redefine "faithful" that this sentence says exactly nothing.
-- "Vatican II took us out of the ghettos and into ecology, feminism and justice in the world. The Vatican still has a difficult time accepting that." This sentence does say it all.
-- "[It is] unlikely the Vatican wanted us to come out of this being more confident of our identity as self-defining religious agents, but that is exactly what has happened." A stunning admission, evidence of the need for the visitation.
And then, from the Too Stupid for Comment Files, there is the hyperventilating stuff that both illustrates the secularization of religious institutes since Vatican II and contributes to the stereotype of women as hysterical, coming from the type of women who profess to be out to destroy stereotypes:
All along, said one woman religious, the challenge has been to respond to the Vatican in a way that breaks a cycle of violence. She said that the women religious communities have attempted to respond by using a language "devoid of the violence" they found in the Vatican questionnaire and within the wider study. She characterized the congregation responses as "creative and affirming," and part of an effort to set a positive example in "nonviolent resistance."
"On the one hand we didn't want to roll over and play dead," she said. "So the question was, "How do you step outside a violent framework and do something new?' That was the challenge that emerged." One congregation, she said, cited a U.S. bishops' statement concerning domestic abuse in its response letter to Millea. "The point is, there have to be more than two choices: Take the abuse and offer it up, or kill the abuser."
Women religious, she said, are asking if there is a "Ghandian or Martin Luther King way" to deal with violence they felt is being done to them.
The dissenters who responded to the questionnaire with non-responses or with just their constitutions claim that the constitutions tell the whole story about their institutes, and that beyond these, they do not need to elaborate.
Obviously, the constitution only tells half the story. The other half of the story is how faithful these women are to their constitutions, and to what extent their constitutions are a dead letter. This is the half were we find out the hypocrisy of the liberal religious, who demand transparency from Rome and opacity for themselves.