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Monday, November 30, 2009

Religious orders aren't Vatican franchises

Today I saw an interesting post at US Catholic by Sister Sandra Schneiders, I.H.M. on the refusal of a large number of US religious women to comply with the Vatican investigation of their orders (H/T Bryan). It's long, so here is just the first half of it ......

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The Sisters of Mercy aren't McDonald's

When the Vatican investigation of U.S. women religious is discussed, two questions are asked repeatedly:

1) If religious have nothing to hide, why would they object to being investigated by the Vatican?

2) Why should religious congregations be any more immune to surprise checks by the Vatican on their quality of life than a fast-food franchise is to a surprise check by the main office on the quality of its operations and products?

Though these questions are generally asked rhetorically, they deserve to be answered.

First, comparing religious congregations to fast-food franchises is like saying all undergraduate institutions of higher education in the U.S. are franchises of the Department of Education. The massive University of California system; a small, rural liberal arts college for women; the military academy at West Point; and a local community college should, by this analogy, all be as uniform as a small order of McDonald's french fries in Peoria is to one in Boston.

Should not the franchises (schools) supplying this product (a bachelor's degree) all follow the same recipes (required courses) and use the same measurements (identical exams)? And does not the central office have a right to make surprise inspections to be sure that this uniformity is maintained?

Obviously, this line of questioning is silly. To express the multiple purposes of education itself, schools offer vastly different programs to diverse students with varying objectives.

As the Second Vatican Council's decree on the adaptation and renewal of religious life, Perfectae Caritatis, notes, "In keeping with the divine purpose, a wonderful variety of religious communities" has arisen in the church. Although there are deep similarities among religious orders and certain criteria apply to all-for example, fidelity to the vows-a cookie-cutter uniformity measured by a universally applied questionnaire to evaluate all orders is neither reasonable nor desirable.

Orders differ widely in their charisms, ministries, prayer life, community life, and government. Except for celibacy, which is identical for all, virtually every aspect of religious life has legitimately been interpreted and lived differently in different communities.

Also, contrary to some people's misconceptions-and unlike diocesan clergy-religious congregations receive no financial support from the institutional church. Furthermore, religious do not "make vows to the pope" or the hierarchy. Religious make their vows to God according to the approved constitutions of their own congregations.

In short, religious are not financially, juridically, or organizationally branch offices, much less "franchises" of the Vatican or the chancery office.

If the fast food franchise analogy is absurd, is there a better one? I would suggest matrimony ........

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4 Comments:

Blogger PrickliestPear said...

That's a terrific piece, and well worth reading in its entirety.

So many people are ignorant of the true relationship between religious congregations and the institutional church, and this ignorance prevents them from seeing just how unjust these investigations are.

10:12 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi PrickliestPear,

Yes, until reading this I didn't realize that the Vatican didn't financially support religious orfers and that they didn't make their vows to the pope - interesting.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Right, Crystal. In fact, one of the real scandals of the Church in our modern times is the number of elderly sisters that the dwindling numbers of younger sisters in their order cannot support (and also since they've all taken a vow of poverty, again not like diocesan priests). They have virtually no support from their diocese -- and no Social Security either! There is an annual collection that the US Catholic Conference recommends for this purpose, but it's not mandatory, and it's certainly not enough. Some orders are VERY poor, though some may have some property that can be sold to meet those needs.

1:03 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Denny,

I didn't realize that they don't even gey social security. No wonder they don't feel they owe explanations to the Vatican.

4:58 PM  

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