An unprecedented Vatican investigation of U.S. women’s religious orders that alarmed Roman Catholic sisters when the inquiry began years ago ended Tuesday with a report signaling a softer approach under Pope Francis.

The report praised sisters for their selfless work caring for the poor and promised to value their “feminine genius” more, while gently suggesting ways to serve the church faithfully and survive amid a steep drop in their numbers. There was no direct critique of the nuns, nor any demand for them to change – only requests that they ensure their ministries remain “in harmony with Catholic teaching.”

“There is an encouraging and realistic tone in this report,” said Sister Sharon Holland, head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella organization for most U.S. religious orders. “…One can read the text and feel appreciated and trusted.”

The laudatory language contrasted sharply with the atmosphere in which the review started under Pope Benedict XVI. Cardinal Franc Rode, who in 2008 initiated the nationwide study when he led the Vatican office that oversees religious orders, said there was concern about “a certain secular mentality that has spread in these religious families and, perhaps, also a certain ‘feminist’ spirit.”

Rode left the post while the review was still underway, and his successors had said they wanted a friendlier relationship with the sisters.

Still, many nuns remained concerned about the investigation. Some nuns had taken legal steps to shield the financial assets of their orders in case of a Vatican takeover.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.