The reasons for the decline don't require a PhD to figure out. There is absolutely nothing that a nun does that cannot be done by a lay woman without having to give up the possibility of marriage, motherhood, and career choice and advancement. And you don't have to be silently obedient to a male hierarchy that may have only a fraction of your intellectual ability and education. Many nuns in America have, in fact, stopped silently acquiescing. And women religious superiors have been very willing to defend their congregations' traditional decisionmaking autonomy. So that has put the women's religious orders on the Vatican radar screen...
WASHINGTON, July 2 (UPI) -- The Vatican is investigating the conduct of U.S. nuns through two "visitations" of religious orders and an umbrella organization.
Several nuns told The New York Times they fear the church is trying to restore old traditions such as wearing habits, living in convents and working in church institutions.
"They think of us as an ecclesiastical work force," said Sister Sandra M. Schneiders, who taught at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, Calif. "Whereas we are religious, we're living the life of total dedication to Christ, and out of that flows a profound concern for the good of all humanity. So our vision of our lives, and their vision of us as a work force, are just not on the same planet."
The more extensive Apostolic Visitation is being done by Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a U.S. native now living in Rome.
The other visitation is an assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella organization that says it has 1,500 members from most U.S. orders. Cardinal William Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the conference it has failed to promote church teaching on homosexuality, the men-only priesthood and holding the Catholic church to be the only means to salvation, the newspaper said.
- Sister Sandra Schneiders' opinion of the Apostolic Visitation and how congregations should handle it (National Catholic Reporter, 2/27/2009)
- Leadership Conference of Women Religious statements on the Apostolic Visitation and the CDF doctrinal assessment.
- National Coalition of American Nuns' Statement on the Apostolic Visitation (NCAN Web site)
- Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB welcomes the Apostolic Visitation
On a related subject. Belly Girl Films (Rebecca Alvin) has a new documentary profiling nuns in a variety of roles from contemplative to activist. The film is called "Women of Faith". Here is a clip from the film featuring Sr. Pat Murray, a Maryknoll nun who did substantial missionary work in El Salvador during the civil war. The photo above is also from that film.