V 28. The overall purpose of monastic visitations is to help communities to grow in self-understanding, to recognize and acknowledge their own strengths and weaknesses, to identify what should be corrected or eliminated in their life, to help them solve their present problems, and to articulate the needs that should form their agenda of items for continuing examination. The precise services that they may contribute at any given time in history will inevitably depend upon the particular circumstances of that time.
1. The Visitation System in Our Time
V 29. Monastic visitations are meant to help our communities evaluate themselves and be prepared to meet the future. Because of the far-reaching changes that have taken place in the Church and in our culture in recent years, there is a need today, perhaps as much as ever before in monastic history, for a monastic community to examine itself, to listen to its members, and to articulate its unique vision of itself, in order to enter into an uncertain future with strength to become what it ought to be.
V 30. When the members of the community engage regularly in such reflection upon their own community life, they are better prepared to utilize a visitation as an instrument for deepening their resolve to improve the quality of their life and for clarifying their vision of how this may best be done. In this context, the system of visitations in our Congregation can thus be of better service to each community, to the abbots of the various monasteries, and to the Church as a whole.
V 31. 1. It can serve the community by bringing closure to a study process that may have been undertaken or by guiding such a process into the next stage. As good listeners, the visitators may reflect back to the monks what they have said of their own community and critically examine their vision of themselves, offering correction of their perspective when this seems necessary.
2. It can help the abbot by formulating the visitation report as a commentary on the community's stated vision of itself. The abbot then can use the report as
a guide for the community's ongoing self-study, as a source for stimulating community listening sessions and for his conferences to his community, and as an instrument of continuity between one visitation and the next.
3. Visitation can serve the entire Church because, in the context of the mystical body, the welfare of each monastic community is of concern to the whole Church. By helping a monastic community to be faithful to its calling to reappropriate the monastic tradition in a form suitable to our times and circumstances, a visitation furthers the progress of the Kingdom of God.
2. The Functions of a Visitation
V 32. In general, the visitation of a monastery is intended to offer an evaluation by outside examiners to stimulate the community to improve its common life and to begin or continue its own self-evaluation for the purpose of promoting ongoing growth. More specifically, this overall purpose involves the following functions:
V 33. 1. The visitation should offer a judgment upon the community's faithfulness to monastic tradition as set forth in the Rule of St. Benedict and in The Constitutions and the Directory of the American-Cassinese Congregation, as well as in the community's statements of its own ideals, as may be articulated in such documents as its customary or its mission statement and in formulations of its goals and policies.
2. The visitation should promote the growth of the community by drawing attention to the strengths it already enjoys and encouraging their further development, and by urging the ongoing conversio of the community as a response to their divine calling and to the signs of the times. The visitation report may function as an instrument to help the community achieve further development by providing a concrete expression of continuity in their efforts.
3. The visitation should allow the visitators and the community, by means of individual and group interaction, to identify the community's weaknesses and deficiencies and any evident discrepancies between theory and practice. The visitators will propose appropriate remedies, if needed, to help the community to become more authentic.
V 33. 4. The visitation should provide, when necessary in serious cases, for the invoking of sanctions according to the proper law. Sanctions are invoked in exceptional cases in order to eradicate serious abuses or to achieve important goods that are essential to the welfare of the community.
3. The Scope of a Visitation
V 34. The regular visitation is limited in its purview to the monastic affairs of the community. The visitators will ordinarily focus upon the specific aspect of the life that the community has chosen for a particular visitation or, if such a choice has not been made, upon its life in general. The specific concentration may be one that a previous visitation identified as a matter in need of further study. The choice of such a specific focus, however, in no way prevents an individual monk or a group of monks from addressing other aspects of the monastic life apart from this area (see V 8.2).
V 35. In a regular visitation the visitators are not authorized to inquire into aspects of a community's life other than its monastic affairs, except insofar as they affect the integrity and peace of the monastic life. In a special visitation, however, they may be explicitly addressed if, in the judgment of the visitators, they are related to the community's current problems.
V 36. The purpose of the monastic visitation is evaluation of the community and its life, not evaluation of the lives of individual monks. This latter task is rather the concern of the abbot and his delegates in the monastery. The concern of the visitators, however, should extend to satisfying themselves that the monks regularly receive the kind of support, encouragement, and correction that they need to make progress in the monastic life. It is appropriate, therefore, that individual monks experience the visitation as an opportunity to measure their own observance. When the behavior of an individual monk creates a problem that has a notable effect on the whole community, it necessarily falls within the concern of the visitators.
V 37. It can happen that serious matters, although not pertaining to the area chosen to be considered in a visitation, will nevertheless come to light in the course of the visitation. Such matters can and should be treated in the report to the abbot or in that to the community, or in , both, and a course of action may be suggested. Depending upon the gravity of the situation, such problems may be referred to the President and his council for decision as to how they should be handled.