"A fake war being stirred up by the Vatican...”
Sr. Sandra M. Schneiders, a sister of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and faculty member at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, has called on her fellow nuns to give a cold shoulder to visitors from the Vatican conducting a study of U.S. women’s religious orders, calling those carrying out the visitations “uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house.”
On Jan. 30, the Vatican announced it was launching a series of on-site visits to “look into the quality of life” of women’s religious communities in the U.S. Altogether, about 400 such visits are planned, the first scheduled in Los Angeles on June 2.
In a private email message to “colleagues and friends” obtained by the National Catholic Reporter and later published with Sr. Schneiders’ permission, the professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology says, “I do not put any credence at all in the claim that this is friendly, transparent, aimed to be helpful, etc. It is a hostile move and the conclusions are already in. It is meant to be intimidating.”
Sr. Schneiders says in the email message published by NCR that the visitations are not a study but an investigation. “We cannot, of course, keep them from investigating,” she wrote. “But we can receive them, politely and kindly, for what they are, uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house. When people ask questions they shouldn't ask, the questions should be answered accordingly. I just hope we will not, as we American Religious so often do, think that by total ‘openness’ and efforts to ‘dialogue’ we are going to bring about mutual understanding and acceptance. This is not mutual and it is not a dialogue. The investigators are not coming to understand -- believe me, we found that out in the seminary investigation. So let's be honest but reserved, supply no ammunition that can be aimed at us, be non-violent even in the face of violence, but not be naive.”
Sr. Schneiders called the visitations “a fake war being stirred up by the Vatican at the instigation of the frightened” and advised her colleagues against getting involved in it. “Also, what is the worst thing that can happen from this investigation?” she asked. “They are surely not going to shut down 95% of the Religious Congregations in this country, even if they'd like to, any more than they closed all the seminaries that were not teaching 19th century moral theology or buying the official line that the clergy sex abuse scandal was caused, not by corrupt bishops protecting pedophile priests, but by homosexuals in seminaries.”
In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, Sr. Eva-Maria Ackerman, a Franciscan Martyr of St. George religious who is helping conduct the visitations, said that Mother Clare Millea, who has been entrusted by the Vatican with carrying out the visits, has received a much warmer reception from U.S. women religious than that advised by Sr. Schneiders. “Mother Clare has been impressed with the number of requests that have been made already and she has received a great deal of good feedback about the approach she is taking in this first phase of soliciting voluntary input,” Sr. Ackerman told CNA.
Sr. Ackerman also told CNA that the visitations will be conducted without any foregone conclusions. “Mother Clare is open to the Spirit’s guidance through this whole process and is focusing on each phase of the visitation as it is scheduled,” said Sr. Ackerman. “She has not drawn any conclusions but rather is desirous of hearing about the reality of each congregation as it will be expressed by the superiors general in the first phase.”