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Vatican To Radical Nuns: ‘Never Mind’

Tide goes out on American nuns Michael Foley/Flickr

Bet you forgot about the apostolic visitation of women’s religious orders in the United States, ordered by Pope Benedict XVI. Here is a short list of why the then-Pope ordered the investigation. The one-line answer is that most (but not all) American women’s religious orders are embracing and teaching serious heresy, and are in absolute freefall in terms of membership.

In May of this year, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the CDF (the Vatican’s doctrinal office), strongly criticized the American nuns for going all-out for New Age wackjobbery. That criticism by the Pope’s doctrinal watchdog made it seem that Pope Francis was just as concerned about the abandonment of Catholicism by the American nuns as Pope Benedict was.

Well, now the Vatican’s summary report on the American nun investigation has been released. From the NYT’s report:

Vatican investigation of American nuns started under the previous pope, which prompted protests from outraged Catholics, ended in Rome on Tuesday with the release of a generally appreciative report that acknowledged the achievements and the challenges the nuns face given their dwindling ranks.

The relatively warm tone in the report, and at the Vatican news conference that released it, was a far cry from six years ago when the investigation was announced, creating fear, anger and mistrust among women in religious communities and convents across the United States.

What changed? The canning (in the final year of Benedict’s papacy) of Cardinal Franc Rodé, who had overseen the investigation:

Cardinal Rodé was replaced as head of the Vatican’s office on religious orders, and the report was finished in 2012 under Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, who said he wanted to “rebuild trust” with the nuns. Francis, who was elected last year, has said repeatedly that he wants to create more opportunities for women to have decision-making roles in the Vatican, and in church leadership.

Cardinal Braz implicitly condemned his predecessor for being too harsh, and said that the Vatican has started “to listen again.”

Here’s a link to the Vatican’s summary report. It’s a total and complete whiff. So, crisis averted. The radical nuns can carry on with their work. The only comfort Catholic conservatives and traditionalists can take from it is that the problem of the heretical orders will be solved shortly by the march of time. From the Vatican report:

Today, the median age of apostolic women religious in the United States is in the mid-to-late 70s. The current number of approximately 50,000 apostolic women religious is a decline of about 125,000 since the mid-1960s, when the numbers of religious in the United States had reached their peak.

By the way, a recent Georgetown study found that the belief that the orthodox women’s religious orders are booming with vocations versus the heterodox (my term) ones is a myth. That study also found that there are as many nuns in the US under the age of 60 as there are over the age of 90. By 2030, the problem that prompted the Vatican’s visitation will have solved itself, if morbidly.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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