Why are those sisters so polarizing?
And today I want to turn to the highly topical issue of religious life.
I've written extensively on this topic before, so do go and reread this series on the collapse of religious life and why we need it to be revived.
But today I just want to flag a few points on why so many Catholics are aggrieved at the state of religious life today, aggrieved at the sight of those religious women sans habit.
A life of sacrifice
The first is a very simple resentment I think.
The assets religious are living off now were given to them by the laity in times past, and they weren't given to them in the expectation that they would fund people to live in comfortable suburban flats, wearing comfortable civies, and to fund a life dedicated to political activism and the promotion of heresy!
Rather, they were given in the expectation that religious would live communally and provide concrete services - in the form of prayer, sacrifices and practical support such as teaching, nursing and missionary work - back to the Catholic community and the world more broadly.
As Fr Kelly notes:
"In 1984, as my friend Frank Brennan has observed (and Frank was ordained the following year), parents were actually pleased to have one of their own put their hands up to serve the Church community. It was something to be proud of – that one of yours was ready to serve in way that entailed hardship and sacrifice to deliver the service but also brought respect and appreciation form a community that named some of its clerical and religious leaders as tribal heroes.
And we still had Religious throughout health care, welfare institutions and the Catholic education system though their presence was beginning to fade....The winds of change were blowing and today Religious make up less than 1% of teachers in Catholic schools..."
A vow of poverty!
As Brian Coyne has rather snarkily observed over at acatholica, today the situation is very different indeed:
"I had a wry smile on my face reading this paragraph from Michael Kelly...When I first saw Michael Kelly in the crowd [at a recent book launch] I thought "what's he doing here?" — the priest who lives out his vow of poverty via an American Express card jet-setting around the world. There ain't much "hardship and sacrifice" involved in being a priest today — certainly in the material sense."
Now I have no idea whether this is an accurate comment on the particular situation, or even the general, but I think it does pretty much encapsulate the view of many Catholics today when faced with religious men and women who don't seem to the outside world at least, to be modelling in any obvious way a commitment to that vow of poverty!
What made schools and hospitals genuinely catholic?
The second issue raised though by Fr Kelly's comments is just what those religious brought to their traditional apostolates.
Fr Kelly attributes the decline of religious in schools to the new found availability of Government funding:
"Once Gough Whitlam guaranteed a decent wage for teachers in Catholic schools, the service provided by generations of Religious – as cheap teachers – was no longer needed."
But were religious really nothing more than a source of cheap labour?
This really devalues and ignores what most of us see as their most important contribution, which lay in inculcating a genuinely catholic ethos into those institutions - something that has noticeably been lost in those institutions today.
Once upon a time, the communal prayer life of those religious communities flowed over into their work and vice versa; and their dedication to the work provided genuinely catholic role models to each generation of children. And that is why Catholics would actually like to see a return of habited orders teaching our children and staffing our hospitals. It is why those new 'traditional' orders are attracting so many vocations while the Orders that continue to cling to the Vatican II revolution are rapidly dying out by virtue of lack of new vocations.
Valuing the real contribution of religious
In reality of course, as the Catholic Religious Australia 2009 Report 'See I am doing a new thing' acknowledges, it was not Whitlam's funding of Catholic Schools that led to the lay takeover of Catholic institutions.
It wasn't, as Fr Kelly suggests, that parents suddenly decided that religious life wasn't the right life for their kids.
Rather the change was forced by the dramatic mass exit of existing religious from their orders that followed that period of wild experimentation after Vatican II.
That 2009 report comments that:
"...the decline in the number of religious sisters and brothers began rather suddenly. From the early 70s the graphs for both groups have a steep slope, reflecting the fact that large numbers left religious life in the years following Vatican II, causing the decline among religious sisters and brothers to begin a full decade before the decline in numbers of religious clergy began to any extent. By 1982, for example, the number of sisters and brothers had declined by 20 per cent and 18 per cent respectively whereas the number of religious clergy had declined by only two per cent.
An irony of the rapid decrease in the number of religious sisters is that many of them have become available to augment the professional ministry workforce in parishes. This is partly due to the fact that female religious orders were forced by declining numbers to hand over the running and staffing of their schools and hospitals to lay people, thereby allowing many of their own sisters to begin a ‘second career’ in parish ministry as a pastoral associate or as the designated pastoral leaders of parishes without resident priests."
The failure of Vatican II
The bottom line on all of this is that we need to get the sisters back to their traditional apostolates, and out of this pseudo-ministry role that simply serves to subvert the priesthood.
We need to support the new orders that are growing up to replace those that are rapidly dying out.
And for the sake of souls, we need those ageing sisters to return to the actual faith, rather than promoting new age immorality.
That is why the Vatican's attempts to reform the US peak body for religious women is so important.
And why Cath News' refusal ot allow criticism of female religous, and active promotion of dissent in the face of the Vatican's rulings on the heretical activities of these sisters is so dangerous.
Do go and vote in the poll (top of the right hand column of the blog page) - should Cath news be reformed or destroyed (suppressed)? And indicate if you are/might be willing to pray for it and its staff!