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New Orleans nuns relieved by positive Vatican report

Sister Rita Hickey of Poor Clare Nuns on Henry Clay Blvd. discusses the Vatican's final report on Women Religious in the U.S. (Fox 8 Photo) Sister Rita Hickey of Poor Clare Nuns on Henry Clay Blvd. discusses the Vatican's final report on Women Religious in the U.S. (Fox 8 Photo)

A sweeping visitation of Roman Catholic nuns in the United States ended with a report mostly praising the sisters.

The Vatican followed complaints that some nuns were undermining Catholic teachings. The introduction to the 10-page report stated, "We wished to gain deeper knowledge of the contributions of the women religious to the Church and society as well as those difficulties which threaten the quality of their religious life."

"I was delighted to see the very positive tone of the report," said New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond.

Some congregations in New Orleans were visited by Vatican representatives before the report was finalized.

"This is the chance to tell the story of what Women Religious are all about," said Sister Beth Fitzpatrick, the vicar for Religious.

By visiting congregations, including that of Sister Beth Fitzpatrick, Vatican representatives said they hoped to affirm the societal contributions and note the challenges faced by Sisters across America. Most notably, they looked at the lack of young women joining religious institutions.

"I really was delighted with it because it did not fluff over the fact that religious communities in this country are definitely facing problems," said Sister Rita Hickey of Poor Clare Nuns on Henry Clay Boulevard.

The Vatican's report found the median age of Apostolic U.S. Women Religious is in the mid- to late-70s. Hickey said St. Clare's Monastery was not included in the Vatican Visitation because they're part of what's called a Contemplative Community. However, she said, their problem of an aging community is the same.

"It's important that it was done, because we have reached a crisis," Hickey said.

However, Fitzpatrick said in New Orleans there's a rare trend of slow but important community growth in new ways.

"Many religious came to help us recover from Katrina, and some of those communities have stayed," Fitzpatrick said.

The new sisters added to the already larger-than-average women religious community who have greater influence over local church decisions.

"We have a little over 400 women religious. So, it's a little bit unique here. I think the report challenges those Diocese and those parts of the world where that is not the case to give that some serious consideration, and certainly Pope Francis is calling us to that level of collaboration," Archbishop Aymond said.

Aymond pointed to the New Orleans community as a leading example of what Pope Francis urges worldwide: the consideration of male leadership to think of women religious as coworkers.

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