National Catholic Reporter

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Sisters' Stories

U.S. women religious study raising new concerns

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The Vatican-appointed apostolic visitator charged with leading a study of U.S. women religious communities soon will have personally interviewed nearly half the superiors general included in phase one of the effort.

Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Mother Mary Clare Millea, who heads the project, has spoken with women in Rome, by telephone, and also while visiting various U.S. cities. In August she plans to send questionnaires to heads of religious institutes with an eye on beginning on-site visits shortly into 2010.

“The response has been very positive,” said Sr. Eva-Maria Ackerman, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, the American sister handling communications for the project. “Mother Millea has already interviewed 50 superiors general in Rome and will soon have completed 77 more in the U.S. She will speak with more after she returns to Rome.”

Phase one of the study, Ackerman said, calls for interviewing some 340 women religious leaders with U.S. generalates, provincialates and houses of formation.

International nun's group supports U.S. women religious

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The Catholic church’s top women religious organization this week issued a strong supportive statement for U.S. women religious congregations under investigation by the Vatican. The organization praised U.S. women religious for living out the mandates of the Second Vatican Council.

“We affirm unequivocally our support for our sisters in the United States,” the statement of the International Union of Superiors General's executive board reads.

“Their response to the mandates of the Second Vatican Council, particularly as stated in Perfectae Caritatis, has been a great gift, not only to the pluralistic society in which they live, but also to the universal church. Our desire is to assist them in facing the challenges which we share.”

Perfectae Caritatis
is a Vatican council document, issued in 1965, that called upon women religious to renew their congregations in the spirit of their founders in order to meet the needs of the times.

Womenpriests movement ordains bishops

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Roman Catholic Womenpriests USA, a group that supports the ordination of women to the priesthood, said it had ordained four women to serve as bishops in the United States. The ceremony took place April 19 in California, according to a news release from the organization dated April 21.

The news release said Womenpriests in four regions of the United States elected a bishop to lead their particular region. Elected were Joan Mary Clark Houk of Pittsburgh, Pa., Andrea Michele Johnson of Annapolis, Md., Maria Regina Nicolosi of Red Wing, Minn., and Bridget Mary Meehan of Sarasota, Fla., and Falls Church, Va.

Vatican investigates U.S. women religious leadership

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The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has initiated a doctrinal investigation of the largest U.S. women’s religious leadership organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The Vatican already announced a separate study last December to assess the “quality of life” in apostolic women’s religious communities throughout the United States.

The Vatican congregation informed the leadership conference officers of its new “doctrinal assessment” in a February 20 letter, which the officers received March 10. The letter came from Cardinal William Joseph Levada, the congregation’s prefect.

In his letter, Levada explained the congregation is undertaking its “assessment” of the women’s leadership conference after initial Vatican doctrinal concerns were expressed in 2001.

Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco, was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2005.

Group rallies for women's ordination

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WASHINGTON -- Despite decades of fighting for women's ordination in the Roman Catholic Church, a Catholic women's advocacy group still hopes the Vatican will reverse its opposition to the inclusion of female clergy members.

"People have been fired who work at Catholic institutions because they even bring up the issue (of women's ordination)," said Aisha Taylor, executive director of the Women's Ordination Conference.

Vatican lip service to women in Women's History Month

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In an infuriating combination of events, the Vatican rang in Women’s History Month by once again paying lip service to women’s equality while showing its true colors. The day before Pope Benedict XVI called for increased commitment to women’s dignity, a Vatican official announced his support for the excommunications of the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion after being raped by her stepfather.

In Brazil, abortion is illegal except in cases of rape or when a woman’s life is in danger, and both stipulations were fulfilled in this heartbreaking case. The doctors determined that the girl, who weighed only eighty pounds, would not survive this pregnancy. The girl’s 23-year-old stepfather admitted to sexually abusing her for several years, and he is also suspected of abusing her physically disabled 14-year-old sister. He has since been arrested and placed in protective custody.

We've given birth to a new form of religious life

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Editor's note: When the Vatican announced in January that it was undertaking a study of institutes of women religious in the United States, many women religious were taken by surprise. Reactions were mixed, some welcoming the study, others anxious about it.

Sr. Sandra M. Schneiders shared her thoughts with some colleagues and friends in an e-mail that was not meant for publication. But her letter did become public and NCR received several requests to publish the letter. We contacted Sr. Schneiders and she gave us permission to share her letter with our online readers.

Author's Note: The following is not and never was an article nor intended for publication. It originated as a spontaneous response in an e-mail conversation among a few colleagues. It became public, so I am making a few changes [in brackets] to clarify references for readers who may not be conversant with the subject matter.

Dear [Friends]

Thanks for your e-mails.

Exhibit aims to dispel 'myth' about sisters

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At the opening of the 19th century, Sr. Therese de St. Xavier Farjon was in charge of the Ursuline sisters in the Louisiana territory. In 1804, Farjon wrote to President Thomas Jefferson, whose government had just purchased Louisiana. Could the Catholic institutions in the former French colony remain independent and unfettered under the new government? Farjon asked the president.

Jefferson wrote back: “Your institution will be able to govern itself without interference from civil authority.”

Church of England inches toward women bishops

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LONDON -- Despite considerable opposition, the Church of England Feb. 11 voted to begin the long process of introducing legislation to allow women bishops.

The legislation, approved by the church’s General Synod, includes complicated provisions to ensure that opponents of female bishops do not find themselves under a woman’s jurisdiction. The protections would be included in a code of practice drafted by the church’s House of Bishops.

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September 12-25, 2014

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