Apostolic Visitation - A Canonical Review

The Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Apostolic Women Religious in the USA began in 2008 with a stated purpose of looking into the quality of the life of religious women in the US. In December 2014, the Final Report was released, and individual reports were promised for some of the institutes concerned.

Initially viewed with alarm and suspicion by many, the visitation was carried out by Mother Clare Millea ASCJ, herself an American woman religious, through four phases: 1) meeting with leaders, 2) survey of institutes, 3) onsite visits, and 4) a final report seen only by the Congregation for Religious (CICLSAL) that initiated the visitation. Visitations are a normal part of the internal governance of religious institutes, through the pastoral visits of leaders to members and communities. This visitation was extra-ordinary in two ways, 1) it was a visitation by an external authority, namely the Congregation for Religious, because of some concerns about the "quality of life" of the institutes. and 2) it had an unprecedented scope, including 405 institutes and provinces.

The final report expressed gratitude for the presence of women religious in the church in the USA and for their extensive contributions to the Church and the people of God, particularly through education and healthcare. It noted the response of women religious to the calls of the Second Vatican Council to a dual fidelity, first to the historical sources in the Gospel and their charism, and second to needed updating and adaptation of religious life. The report also praised the extensive theological and professional formation undertaken by women religious and the outstanding volunteer service of elderly religious.

The final report from the Congregation for Religious characterized the visit as a "sister-to-sister" dialogue modeled on the Visitation of Mary that focused on four areas: 1) vowed commitment, 4) fidelity to their charism, 3) the Church’s teachings, 4) guidelines for renewal. While the report noted great variations among institutes, it also noted the numerical decline and increased average of women religious as an historical phenomenon that presents challenges to today's religious women. The report went on to offer observations and recommendations in nine topic areas.

Each of these began with words taken from statements of the Congregation for Religious or from papal pronouncements, several taken from Pope Francis, who became pope after Mother Clare's report was submitted. The nine topic areas continue with some general observations, some praising various aspects of the life and mission of women religious, and it continued with some general recommendations and cautions, related to the topic area.
The areas covered are:

Charism and Identity
Vocation Promotion and Religious Formation
Praying with the Church
Life Centered on Christ
Community Life
The Service of Authority
Financial Stewardship
Collaboration in Evangelization
Ecclesial Communion

The report acknowledged the diversity present among communities of women religious in many of the areas discussed. Its recommendations were a call to reflection and self-study.

Among the recommendations found in the report are the following:
--Various forms of lay collaboration are encouraged in the life and mission of the institute while the essential differences between lay and religious are respected and celebrated.
--21st Century formation calls for integration of theological, human, cultural, spiritual and pastoral preparation.
--Reflect deeply on community and take steps to strengthen communities as a sign of communion in Christ.
--Communities are sisters before there are leaders, there is no room for authoritarianism or blind submission.

Some recommendations were made to Church leaders:
--CICLSAL itself received the recommendation to revise its document on the relationship between religious and dioceses. --It also echoed the call of Pope Francis for a more incisive female presence in the Church.

The conclusion called for a continuation of the self-assessment and dialogue begun by the visitation process and invited all the Church, religious, lay and clerics alike to join a joyful Magnificaat for the gift of consecrated life in the Churc

For a more detailed canonical review of the Apostolic Visitation Report, register for February's webcast: The Apostolic Visitation, a Canonical Review – available live or on-demand or on CD-ROM.

Taxation of Religious: The annual review of Taxation of Religious with an annual update and review of UBIT is available this year On-Demand or on CD-ROM only.

Please let me know if I can be of assistance to you or your congregation.


Amy Hereford

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