What a difference a few years makes. With the final Vatican report of Cardinal Law’s vendetta investigation of American women religious, this ugly episode is finally put to rest. He and Pope Benedict’s team really should have finished it before they left power if they wanted a different outcome. Now under Pope Francis, Fr. Jim Martin reports in America,
… it is a document that will most likely be welcomed by many of the women religious who are heroes to American Catholics. The report is noticeable mainly for what it does not do. It does not issue blanket condemnations. It does not set out a list of new rules for women’s religious orders in the United States. It does not ask them to abandon their work in social justice. It does not condemn feminism—a topic explicitly mentioned early on as one of the motivating factors for the investigation—indeed, the word is not even mentioned. It does not call for any action by religious orders, except in the most general of terms, and when it does so it encourages the actions that all religious orders are encouraged to do … Mainly, it does not criticize American sisters, but praises them.
Particularly noteworthy is the focus in the report on recounting what some sisters said to the Visitator about their frustrations with their role in the Church, saying they did not have “enough input into pastoral decisions which effect them or about which they have considerable experience and expertise.” Pope Francis has been outspoken on the need for greater inclusion of women in Church leadership. Clearly the highlighting of these concerns in the report is designed to advance his argument there.
It was not hard to imagine that Pope Francis, who has called for a greater not lesser role for women in leadership, who shares the sisters’ focus on social justice work, and who always takes a pastoral rather than judgmental tone, would want to dispense with this whole mess. But as is also typical of this pope, he did so not heavy-handedly but in a way that left room for reconciliation, letting the process follow through to its conclusion but with a positive outcome. Thank you once again, Pope Francis.