Pretty much nothing, but it shouldn’t be that way.

I spotted the ad in a local grocery story flyer, which contained some summer BBQ recipes that caught my eye. Believe it or not, the ad is for a (nominally) Catholic retreat center located in the Cadboro Bay neighborhood of Victoria, British Columbia.

The only reason I noticed the ad is because I live in the same Cadboro Bay neighborhood myself, and I was surprised to see that apparently there’s a spa called Queenswood located here that I had never spotted. It wasn’t until I read partway through the ad’s copy that I realized it’s actually promoting the Queenswood retreat center, located two blocks from my home adjacent to a community of the Sisters of St. Ann.

Struck by what appears to be a deliberate effort to exclude even the faintest discernible hint of Catholicity from the marketing of Queenswood, I decided to visit Queenswood’s website last week to check if it too is largely devoid of a recognizably Catholic (or even Christian) imprint. The answer: an emphatic Yes.

While, according to the website, there is still a weekly Mass at the retreat center, the website says little about Christ or about Catholicism, in contrast to a cornucopia of material posted about yoga, environmentalism and various esoteric Eastern and New Age spiritual concepts.

In fact, searching the “news and blog” section of the Queenswood website, the only place references to Jesus could be found was in an entry posted by a Sister of St. Ann who specializes in the practice of Reiki. In her post she asserts this recently invented form of Eastern spirituality can be seen as a contemporary expression of the healing ministry of Christ. This claim is rather suspect, especially given that the doctrine committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently published a document explaining in detail why it’s incorrect to assert Reiki can be reconciled with authentic Christianity.

(As the Daily Blog noted here, the U.S. bishops were impelled to publish their document specifically because the practice of Reiki has become so widespread in some Catholic circles, including among a substantial number of nuns at American convents.)

On its website, Queenswood attempts to reconcile the many glaringly non-Catholic elements that appear to dominate its current activities with its Catholic heritage.

In a section titled “Queenswood’s Spirituality,” the website says:

Our resources and practices are grounded in rich spiritual traditions, and are accessible, relevant and useful for today’s seekers.  We are sometimes asked if Queenswood is interfaith, or Catholic, or a Christian ecumenical retreat centre. The answer is… yes!  Queenswood is a place where the legacy of the Sisters of St. Ann is alive, while at the same time people of many different traditions find us to be a spiritual “home away from home.”  While many of our staff have Catholic or Christian backgrounds,  our team of facilitators and spiritual directors increasingly represent other global religious traditions and practices which resonate with Christian spirituality, such as yoga and Buddhist and Zen meditation.

I don’t expect I’m alone in finding this passage to be something less than coherent, in terms of addressing the question of whether Queenswood is in fact a Catholic retreat center.

In any event, as a neighbor of Queenswood, I’ve long known that it’s not a hotbed of Catholic practice. But the Queenswood ad, and the retreat center’s website, together constitute a conspicuous example of the spiritual malaise that has afflicted some Catholic women’s religious communities in North America — on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border — over the last two generations. As the leaders of these communities have rushed to embrace various ideologies and spiritual practices that conflict in fundamental ways with what the Church believes and teaches, their Catholic identity has come into question.

In the United States, this malaise has triggered the pair of apostolic visitations currently being conducted by the Vatican, one of all American women’s religious communities and a second, independent investigation focused exclusively on the Leadership Conference of Women’s Religious.

But no matter how many times one encounters the phenomenon, it’s always disquieting to see how fast and how far the leaders of some communities have strayed from their Catholic heritage. And the question naturally arises: How did this situation come to pass?

Ann Carey’s recent article in Catholic World Report, Post-Christian Sisters, is a good place to turn for a concise recapitulation of the historical and ideological dynamics involved. It focuses specifically on the troubled history of the LCWR, detailing how its leaders have been at odds with the Vatican and with many Church teachings over the last several decades.

Carey, author of Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities, writes in her Catholic World Report article,

The unprecedented decision by the Vatican to undertake an apostolic visitation to assess the quality of religious life in orders of sisters in the United States came as a big surprise to many people when it was announced in January. That surprise was doubled with the news two months later that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) will be conducting a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents most of the leaders of US women religious.

But people who have been closely watching the deterioration of many of the women’s religious orders in this country were not at all surprised that the Vatican initiated these assessments. Indeed, many sisters themselves have asked and prayed for Vatican attention to the condition of women’s religious communities. Certainly there is concern that the numbers of sisters are plunging and ecclesial properties are being converted to secular use, but even more critical problems are evident: many sisters no longer work in apostolates related to the Church and no longer live or pray in community, and sometimes sisters even openly dissent from Church teaching on matters such as women’s ordination, homosexuality, centrality of the Eucharist, and the hierarchal nature of the Church.

Likewise, the LCWR has had a stormy relationship with the Vatican for the past 40 years, and the LCWR has been very clear about its determination to “transform” religious life as well as the Church itself.