I commend the Vatican for initiating a major reform of the association of women’s religious congregations, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
The reform comes in light of a hardened defiance of the groups’ leaders against Catholic morality in areas of family life and human sexuality. It is meant to ensure the groups’ fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.
The pope has reduced the problem to a certain “radical feminism” that has crept into women’s religious orders, causing an identity crisis among active orders and congregations. Female religious have turned away from theology and sought liberation in psychologists and psychoanalysts who can only say at most how the forces of the mind function but not why or to what purpose.
After Vatican II, religious communities began every kind of reform imaginable: abandonment of the religious habit, degrees at secular universities, insertion into secular professions and a massive reliance on every type of “specialist.” Not surprisingly, modern secular values often were adopted and the concept of “love thy neighbor” was soon replaced by that of social welfare. In the process, Christianity gradually became reduced to an ideology of doing rather than being.
This is why cloistered contemplative orders are under no such Vatican scrutiny. They have withstood the zeitgeist because they are characterized by a clear and unalterable aim: praise of God, prayer, virginity and separation from the world as an eschatological sign. Their wonderful capacity to give love, help, solace, warmth and solidarity did not give way to the trade-union mentality of the “profession.”
We are at a point when religious life in the Catholic Church should be presenting an alternative to the dominant culture of death, violence, hedonism and abuse rather than mirroring it. Hopefully, the new reform will provide the remedy.