REFLECTION: Vatican diplomatic successes with nuns, the U.S. and Cuba

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by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR

Diplomatic skills were on display at the Vatican this week when it issued its report on the U.S. sisters, hosted a visit from John Kerry, and midwifed an agreement between the United States and Cuba.

First, the nuns.

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Maryknoll Sisters at the SOA Vigil and Action.

A sigh of relief echoed through convents all over the United States as the Vatican report on the life and ministry of religious women was released this week. The six-year visitation of religious communities, which had all the trappings of an inquisition when it began, turned into an affirming dialogue by the time it concluded.

The key players in this transformation were Pope Francis, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Mother Mary Clare Millea and Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Sharon Holland. Without their diplomatic skills, this could have been a disaster.

The apostolic visitation began in 2008 under Cardinal Franc Rodé, then prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (aka Congregation for Religious), who was concerned about “feminist spirit” among American sisters as well as “irregularities or omissions in American religious life.” He clearly expected to find lots of problems and failings among the sisters, which he had heard about especially from “an important representative of the U.S. church,” whom he did not name…

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