Friday February 5, 2010

U.S. Sisters in Crisis after Embracing “Secular Culture”: Vatican Cardinal

By Hilary White

ROME, February 5, 2010 ( – Some religious orders in the U.S. and most western countries are in a state of “modern crisis” because the members of the order have embraced “secular culture” and abandoned traditional religious practices, the head of the Vatican’s office for religious life has said.

But, said the cardinal, the religious life in the Catholic Church should be presenting an alternative to the “dominant culture,” “which is a culture of death, of violence and of abuse,” rather than mirroring it.

Cardinal Franc Rodé, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which is undertaking a review (known as a “visitation”) of the active religious life for women in the U.S., was speaking to a conference on religious life sponsored by the Archdiocese of Naples on Wednesday.

He said, “The crisis experienced by certain religious communities, especially in Western Europe and North America, reflects the more profound crisis of European and American society. All this has dried up the sources that for centuries have nourished consecrated and missionary life in the church.”

“The secularized culture has penetrated into the minds and hearts of some consecrated persons and some communities, where it is seen as an opening to modernity and a way of approaching the contemporary world,” the cardinal added.

In November last year, Cardinal Rodé forthrightly said that it is feminism that has created the crisis in the religious orders. In an interview with Vatican Radio, he said he had been “alerted” by an unnamed representative of the Church in the U.S., “to some irregularities or deficiencies” in the way the religious sisters were living.

“Above all, you could speak of a certain secularist mentality that has spread among these religious families, perhaps even a certain ‘feminist’ spirit,” the cardinal said.

Late last year, the increasingly loud complaints about the ongoing visitation from a small number of American communities prompted several public comments from the cardinal defending the Vatican’s decision to investigate the sisters’ lives. For some years now, Rodé has called on the sisters to refocus their communities on the “founding charisms” or original purpose of their orders.

The deterioration since the 1960s into radical feminism and leftist politics of most of the religious orders in the U.S., especially those of women, has not gone unnoticed in Rome. In 2008 at a meeting of religious men and women in Boston, Cardinal Rodé said that today there are some in religious life “who have chosen paths that have carried them away from communion with Christ in the Catholic Church, even though they have decided to physically ‘be’ in the Church.”

This assertion was bolstered in 2007 at a meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), a keynote speaker, Dominican Sister Laurie Brink, said that the more liberal congregations of sisters were leaving behind “institutional religion” and “moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus.”

What she called a “sojourning” order “is no longer ecclesiastical,” she said. “Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian.”

These statements were cited by the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) when it launched a doctrinal investigation into the beliefs and teachings of orders that are members of LCWR. The Apostolic Visitation being conducted by the Congregation for Religious is separate from the CDF investigation, but the latter has been excoriated as an “inquisition” by the same religious orders that have objected to the Visitation.

Read related LSN coverage:

Dissident U.S. Nuns Unlikely to Change, Even in Face of Vatican Inquiry and Shrinking Numbers: Experts