Tom Hoopes is Vice President of College Relations and writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. He has written for the Register for more than 20 years and was its executive editor for 10. His writing has appeared in First Things’ First Thoughts, National Review Online, Crisis, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside Catholic and Columbia. He has served as press secretary for the Chairman of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee. He and his wife, April, were editorial co-directors of Faith & Family magazine for 5 years. They have nine children.
Today’s the World Day for Consecrated Life and the big news in U.S. women’s religious houses is that the Vatican will be checking in on them (as we reported here).
Why? Vatican Cardinal Franc Rode’s remarks from September might provide a clue. He identified five kinds of nuns in the Church today.
“Under the umbrella of ‘consecrated life’ and behind the statistics there lies a variety of situations,” saod the prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, at the Stonehill College symposium on “Apostolic Religious Life since Vatican II.”
“First, there are many new communities, some better known than others, many of which are thriving and whose individual statistics are the reverse of the general trends.
“Second, we have older communities that have taken action to preserve and reform genuine religious life in their own charism; they are also in a growth mode, contrary to the general trend, and their median age is lower than the overall average for religious.”
These look to a promising future.
(One way to tell this kind: They wear habits and have lots of young postulants, as we pointed out before.)
But “Third, there are those who accept the present situation of decline as, in their words, the sign of the Spirit on the Church, a sign of a new direction to be followed. Among this group there those who have simply acquiesced to the disappearance of religious life or at least of their community, and seek to do so in the most peaceful manner possible, thanking God for past benefits.”
Next he identifies another group: “Then, we must admit too, that there are those who have opted for ways that take them outside communion with Christ in the Catholic Church, although they themselves may have opted to ‘stay’ in the Church physically. These may be individuals or groups in institutes that have a different view, or they may be entire communities.”
But don’t forget the fifth kind of religious:
“Finally, I would distinguish those who fervently believe in their own personal vocation and the charism of their community, and are seeking ways to reverse the trend. In other words, how to achieve authentic renewal. These may be whole institutes, or individuals, pockets of individuals or even communities within institutes.”
He goes on to say that reform is needed, and, citing Cardinal Avery Dulles adds:
“Reform, therefore, entails identifying three basic elements: 1) something essential to preserve; 2) some way of dealing with what is essential that has gone wrong and needs to be corrected, 3) a new way of dealing with what is essential that has to be implemented.”
That reform may be a big part of the reason behind the visitation. That and this:
“I want you to be sure of my complete support for any honest effort to renew individual religious families along the lines of fidelity to the Church and to the founder.”
— Tom Hoopes
Addendum — Especially, read this:
“In many … Western countries, religious have lost hope. They are resigned to the loss of vitality, of significance, of joy, of attractiveness, of life. But America is different. The vitality, the creativity, the exuberance that marks the thriving culture of the United States is reflected in Christian life and also in consecrated life. Just think: Since the Second Vatican Council, more than a hundred new religious communities have sprung up in this fertile soil. ...
“I am convinced that if we adhere to what John Paul II taught us yesterday and what Benedict is teaching us today, we will emerge from the crisis of consecrated life into a new springtime of renewal in consecrated life in America.”