Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No Way to Treat a Visitator

NCR reported last week that “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.” I’m inclined to think and hope that is an exaggeration.

To make their case, NCR quotes an anonymous sister who asserts “There's been almost universal resistance” to answering the questions posed by the Apostolic Visitation of U.S. Women Religious. Another anonymous characterizes the questions and the Vatican itself as violent and abusive. Yet another anonymous says women religious “are asking if there is a ‘Ghandian or Martin Luther King way’ to deal with violence they felt is being done to them.”

People who use the language of violence and abuse to characterize questions like:

Do your sisters participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy according to approved liturgical norms?

Or:

How is spiritual and human development of sisters fostered in community?

Seem more in need of a Psychiatric Visitation than anything else and can’t possibly reflect the thinking of the majority of very balanced, committed and intelligent women religious in the United States.

But as to the question of how to respond to a Visitation that you do not want and find unfair, Canon Law has an answer:

Can. 628 §3. Members are to act with trust toward a visitator, to whose legitimate questioning they are bound to respond according to the truth in charity. Moreover, it is not permitted for anyone in any way to divert members from this obligation or otherwise to impede the scope of the visitation.

That canon regards the visitation of a diocesan bishop or religious superior to a religious institute. It seems a similar attitude would apply to a visitation ordered by the Pope, of which the Second Vatican Council dogmatically declared:

The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. (Lumen Gentium 22)

Assuming there are some congregations not complying with the Apostolic Visitation, their actions imply a rejection of truth, charity, obedience, canon law and the Second Vatican Council. It’s doubtful a congregation could reveal as much about itself by simply answering the questions. As Jeff Miller commented the other day, “Not sure how no answer is going to do anything other than to show exactly why the Apostolic Visitation was needed in the first place.”