John Allen's has a lengthy, revealing and surprising interview with Archbishop Joseph Tobin, Secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Vatican office running the "apostolic visitation" of women's religious communities in the United States. It's all here on NCR. Archbishop Tobin acknowledges the "anger and hurt" of American woman religious and also hopes for what many congregations have been requesting after the visitation is completed: feedback. Some questions:
So far, have you worked much on the visitation of American women religious?
I wouldn’t say it’s a daily issue in the dicastery, because there are so many other ones, some of which may be more urgent in a local area. But [the visitation] is certainly there. I met Mother Millea last month and had a chance to hear her experience. I’ve also met with different people, such as the past president of the LCWR and other American religious who are passing through Rome. I’m picking up the impression that it’s not as bad as people thought it was going to be, but there still is a need for a strategy of reconciliation.
What do you mean by that?
A number of leaders of women’s congregations have said to me that they’ve been surprised by the depth of anger and hurt that exists among the sisters. I think that can’t be ignored. It has to be addressed, it’s a sign of the times.
Do you have a sense at this stage of how to address it?
I think it would be arrogant on my part to say that. I remember talking to a couple of sisters, and I said, ‘Look, I’m not naive enough to think that trust can be built overnight, or even through a nice meeting, but at least we’ve got to talk.’ I also don’t think the answer is just with me. I think my dicastery and others have to hear the experience of women religious, and women religious too have to hear the experience of pastors and this dicastery. We have to try to heal what can be healed.
One source of concern often expressed by women religious is that they’re not going to see the results of the visitation or have any opportunity to respond. What can you say about that?
I really believe that people have a right to some sort of response. I don’t want to do Mother Millea’s job, in the sense of sitting here in Rome and contradicting instructions she’s received. But I can say that my experience of visitations, having done them for 18 years in seventy countries, is that there always is feedback … always. That’s a respectful part of the dialogue, and it also makes sure that the visitation isn’t a flash in the pan, or what’s worse, some sort of trauma that’s unresolved. You don’t want people to feel like they’ve been punched but they don’t know what it was all about.
Your intention is that people will get some kind of feedback?
Yes. All my experience tells me that’s the way to go. I don’t want to subvert the visitation teams by proclaiming something in an interview, but I will strongly advocate for feedback.