The official that initiated the Vatican's investigation of women religious in the United States admitted this week that the enquiry was fueled by concerns that American nuns had become overly secularized and influenced by feminism.Cardinal Franc Rod told Vatican Radio on Wednesday that his office decided to launch the investigation -- officially called an apostolic visitation -- after hearing "critical voices from the United States". The cardinal, who is prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, indicated that "an important representative of the Church in the United States" was among the critics.He said the representative -- whose identity was not revealed -- had "alerted" him "to some irregularities or deficiencies" in the way the religious sisters were living. "Above all, you could speak of a certain secularist mentality that has spread among these religious families, perhaps even a certain 'feminist' spirit," the cardinal said.Cardinal Rod's comments, which were given in an Italian radio interview, were sharper than a more carefully written English-language statement he issued a day earlier as a response to the "many news reports" that have criticized the Vatican visitation. In that text he never mentioned secularism or feminism. He said the purpose of the investigation was to "to identify the signs of hope, as well as concerns, within religious congregations in the United States".Cardinal Rod on Wednesday said the final decision to hold an apostolic visitation was taken in September 2008 during a symposium on religious life at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. Nearly 600 people attended that event, including some bishops, priests, lay people and religious. Many of the speakers were critical of develops that have appeared in religious orders in the forty some years since the Second Vatican Council. [NCR reported on the event here.]"There a desire was expressed to look for a remedy to this situation [of women's religious life], which many say is is not as good as that of past decades," the cardinal said in this week's interview.
UPDATE: In his diocesan paper, Rockville Centre Bishop William Murphy wrote about the visitation:
The first I knew of such a visitation was when the announcement was made last spring that Mother Clare Millea, Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was named to conduct a visitation on the quality of life of congregations of women religious in apostolic life. At the meeting of the bishops in San Antonio in June, Mother Clare spoke to the bishops and outlined the three-step process she and her colleagues would be following. This and all other information can be found on their Web site, www.apostolicvisitation.org. She made it clear that the visitation would be conducted by sisters under her leadership and that, while we bishops will be asked our opinion at some point in the process, the whole project was outside the hands of the U.S. bishops.