Early this year the Vatican launched a three-year, anonymously financed “visitation” of American women religious (i.e, nuns). This visitation apparently has two dimensions: first, an effort to assess the quality of life of the sisters, which apparently extends to exploring why there has been a drop in the number of women entering religious life. But there is also an investigation being conducted of the leadership conference that represents the vast majority of American nuns — addressing concerns that the leadership is not sufficiently compliant with official church teaching on several controversial issues. Needless to say, some observers question the motivation behind this visitation, as well as the manner in which it is being conducted.
Commonweal magazine has just published what, to my mind, is probably the best, and most succinct, analysis of the issues surrounding the visitation, including questions about what is really motivating the Vatican to conduct this investigation and the concerns about the message it is sending, not only to women religious but to the church and society as a whole. It’s well worth reading. Telling in itself is the fact that the author chose to remain anonymous, not because she feared reprisals aimed at herself, but because she was concerned that her superiors — and even her bishop — might become targets.
As a student of Wilber’s integral theory and other theories of human consciousness development (such as Spiral Dynamics), I can’t help but wonder if the church hierarchy represents one level of consicousness — tribal, mythic-membership, with an emphasis on authoritarian governance and the need for internal conformity, the “blue” level of Spiral Dynamics — while the American sisters have begun to embody a different level, more focused on pluralism, justice issues, egalitarianism and self-actualization — the “green” or perhaps even “yellow” memes of SD. If my hunch is correct, then it will be quite interesting to watch how the visitation plays out over the next 2+ years. By the grace of God, it won’t just devolve into the witch hunt that its liberal critics fear it will be; rather, perhaps it can be a means by which the Holy Spirit slowly nudges the church as a whole toward greater health and integration. We can hope and pray.