Apostolic Visitation of American Nuns a 'Grand Jury Indictment' to ABC

Newsflash: The media doesn't understand that the Catholic Church is not a democracy, and that the Vatican is not swayed by public opinion.

The proof of this disconnect came from ABC “World News Sunday” anchor Dan Harris and correspondent David Wright during the Aug. 16 “World News” broadcast. Wright's report on American nuns facing an apostolic visitation, labeled by Harris as “a controversial investigation,” portrayed the Vatican as a big, bad bully of American nuns. 

An apostolic visitation is “a formal but personal meeting with the superiors and members of a religious community which offers an opportunity to comment on various aspects of community and religious life,” according to the Web site apostolicvisitation.org.

Two visitations are currently taking place. One concerns the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which “represents 95 percent of female religious orders in America,” and the other is focused on separate Institutes of Women Religious.

Three of the four nuns featured in Wright's segments expressed concerned about the visitation. Sister Sandra Schneiders of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, compared the process to “a grand jury indictment.” Sister Mary Waskowiak told ABC she has “lost sleep over this” visitation. Sister Mary Daniel Turner claimed the visitation is a reflection on American Catholics in general. “I think the question is, that are being raised about our way of life, are questions that are confronting every Roman Catholic in this country.” 

Wright noted, “Officially, Mother Mary Clare Millea is charged with looking into the quality of life of all 60,000 American nuns, but liberal nuns worry the Vatican is trying to reign them in.” He left out how liberal the nuns he talked with actually were. Schneiders has championed the ordination of women. Waskowiak serves on the advisory council for the left-leaning Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. As for the LCWR, Wright correctly reported the Conference also called for the ordination of women. But he omitted the fact that it had also, according to the New York Times, “failed to 'promote' the church's teachings on…homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.”

Mother Loraine Mary Clare, ostensibly brought in to provide “balance” to Wright's segment, insisted the visitation is “not an investigation,” yet was not given the opportunity to explain the difference between the two.

And Harris insisted on using the term anyway, while working in a pro forma knock against priests. He said in his introduction, “It is not priests the Vatican is investigating, despite years of sex scandals.”

Clearly, Harris and Wright's story proceeded from the assumption that Catholic orthodoxy is archaic and should be changed, and that Vatican efforts to ensure the propagation of that orthodoxy are sinister witch hunts.

The ABC report left out a crucial point: Membership in the Catholic Church is entirely voluntary. Besides, there is a long and venerable tradition of dissent from Catholic teachings. There is even a word for dissenters: “Protestants.”