Vatican letter asks Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet to Rome for 'prayerful conversation'

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet are among the recipients of letters from the Vatican asking congregations to explain matters learned during the apostolic visitation.

About 15 communities of U.S. Catholic sisters are being asked to provide the Vatican with further clarification in the aftermath of the controversial, six-year investigation. The apostolic visitation was announced in 2009, and a final report of the six-year process was released in December 2014.

In addition to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Loretto Sisters also received letters from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL).

Both the Loretto Sisters and the Sisters of St. Joseph were invited to Rome to discuss the matters at meetings in October.  The Loretto Sisters' meeting is scheduled Oct. 18. The timing of the Sisters of St. Joseph meeting in October is tentative, the letter said. The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary were only asked to provide a written response.

The Sisters of St. Joseph said in a statement their letter invited them to Rome for a "prayerful conversation" about "a few points mentioned in the letter." The statement did not say what those points were, and congregational leaders declined to say anything beyond the issued statement.

A copy of the subsequent letter sent by leadership to Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet sisters was obtained by Global Sisters Report. It says that all CSJ Province Leadership Teams received the same letter from CICLSAL and quotes from it on five matters "voicing the following concerns":

• Your desire to help bring about an 'emerging new form of religious life';

• Your evaluation of the way you promote the spiritual and community life of the congregation, in light of the Church's definition of apostolic religious life;   

• Your Congregation's policy regarding members of the community who are known to hold positions of dissent from the Church's moral teaching or approved liturgical practice;

• The identity and role of lay associates/consociates, assuring the distinction between vowed religious life and laity.

• We also urge you to evaluate your efforts to promote 'communion with creation', especially in light of Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato si, a comprehensive presentation on the responsible care of creation, in view of integrating its principles enunciated in the encyclical into your current efforts in this area.

The congregation's statement said the letter was presented as a follow-up to the on-site visit to the order in St. Paul, Minnesota, in late 2010. The congregation's leadership team discussed whether to accept or decline the summons, but decided the "benefits outweigh the challenges of expense and some inconvenience."

The statement said the way sisters conducted themselves during the apostolic visitation and an even more controversial investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith showed the value of remaining engaged to resolve differences and misunderstandings between sisters and the church hierarchy.

"We want to 'stay at the table' and participate in respectful dialogue. We want to communicate by our behavior that we see ourselves as their partners in continuing Christ's mission," the statement said. "It is also potentially an opportunity for the staff of CICLSAL to deepen their understanding of women religious in our country."

The Loretto Sisters were asked to report on five so-called "areas of concern," including:

• Your way of promoting the spiritual and community life of the congregation, in light of the Church's definition of apostolic religious life;

• A certain ambiguity regarding the congregation's adherence to some areas of Church doctrine and morality;

• Your Congregation's policy regarding members of the community who are known to hold positions of dissent from the Church's moral teaching or approved liturgical practice.

The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary were asked in a letter they described as "friendly" to respond to the office's continued concern over the order's "public dissent of Church teaching."

Sr. Teri Hadro, president of the order, said the Vatican interprets things as dissent that are actually just different ordering of priorities, citing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' spending the last decade making abortion its primary cause, while many U.S. women religious congregations have focused on issues like food, water and shelter for marginalized populations.

 [Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]

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