Amy Welborn blogged on Monday about a book that blames male clerics for the collapse of the active women’s religious communities in the United States.
One of Amy’s blogvisitors named “Cathy” claims that the “Spirit is behind the demise of” active religious life. She wrote the following.
- - -
Just yesterday I was at the formal recognition/commitment to ministry of 80 lay people in Chicago. They are all full time paid parish ministers.
So, I think that people are STILL parish ministers - and working in the schools, too, just not as vowed religous.
Sociologically, women had few choices in the 19th and early 20th centuries. For those drawn to professional service in teaching or medicine, it was often done at the sacrifice of a marriage and family.
Even in the 50's it was sort of glamorous and radical for a 'career girl' to live on her own.
With the change in society, women don't necessarily need the structure or protection of religious life to be educators, health care professionals or pastoral leaders. It was a fairly short lived pheonomenon anyway. (Active religious life, outside the cloister, was basically unknown before 1800.)
When modern religious life began to develop, bishops hated the idea of these women 'out of control' setting up schools and hospitals and being independent of male control. Then they realized that they couldn't have schools or hospitals without them.
The Spirit was behind that development. I wonder about our institutional reluctance to see the Spirit behind the demise of that form of evangelical service. But, we continue to pray for vocations which don't seem to be coming and often ignoring the vocations with which the church is being blessed.
That is perplexing and disappointing, but I think of the hundreds of women religous who died in the 19th century thinking in their heart of hearts "The bishop really doesn't get it!" Eventually they did, but the institution is a bit slow to respond to charisms.
It has been ever thus.
- - -
I respond to her as follows.
- - -
Cathy, you wrote:
"It was a fairly short lived phenomenon anyway. (Active religious life, outside the cloister, was basically unknown before 1800.)"
I point out, Cathy, another short-lived phenomenon that you yourself mentioned earlier— and it (to apply your words to it) “was basically unknown before” 1960. It’s the following.
"Just yesterday I was at the formal recognition/commitment to ministry of 80 lay people in Chicago. They are all full time paid parish ministers."
Basically unknown before 1960! How flippant your hypocrisy in dismissing “Active religious life, outside the cloister … basically unknown before 1800”!
Also, still speaking of active religious life, you say:
"I wonder about our institutional reluctance to see the Spirit behind the demise of that form of evangelical service."
Cathy, are you claiming infallibility about the Spirit here? Go ahead and respond by dismissing "papal infallibility"— but just don't claim it for yourself!
"we continue to pray for vocations which don't seem to be coming and often ignoring the vocations with which the church is being blessed."
Don't ignore the vocations pouring into active (not cloistered) communities like the Nashville Dominican Sisters
, the Los Angeles Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart
or the other devout religious communities associated with the “faithful-to-Rome” Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious
I hope you aren't going to presume again to speak for the Spirit, and dismiss THESE plentiful "vocations with which the church is being blessed" as you say (or, in this case it seems, would NOT want to say).
As for vocations to the priesthood....
Worldwide, the number of theology-school seminarians (“candidates for the priesthood”) in the year 2000 was 165.92% times the number in the year 1980. Meanwhile, the worldwide Catholic population between 1980 and 2000 has remained at about 17% of the world. In other words, the percentage of the world that is Catholic did not increase during those twenty years, but the worldwide number of candidates for the priesthood multiplied by practically one and two-thirds. Those were the years of Pope John Paul II. Indeed, the institution seems to be inspiring charisms.
What kind of men are choosing to become priesthood candidates now?
The New York Times, October 13, 1998, published an article entitled, "U.S. Catholic Seminarians Turning to Orthodoxy."
The Los Angeles Time, July 31, 2004, in "A New Breed of Priest," wrote of the same continually strengthening phenomenon.
Cathy, you wrote:
"the institution is a bit slow to respond to charisms. ... It has been ever thus."
Don't be too hasty (and don't presume infallibility on behalf of the Spirit) in dismissing the charisms that are being responded to by the institution and the charisms that are responding to the institution.
The institution has been around since nearly ten times the number of years that have passed since 1800. Remember, you discount the two centuries that have passed since 1800.
Since you are not the Spirit, you simply cannot say that the Spirit is not working through the institution.
Cathy, you are not the Spirit; you are unable to speak infallibly for the Spirit; and "It has been ever thus"— to apply your own words to yourself. Such supremely pontificating and ex cathedra
- - -
Go read Amy Welborn’s blog!