Written by Hilary White
The pope has issued “new guidelines” for contemplative nuns, and it has set off every one of my alarms, long, loud and terrifying as an air raid siren. It is possibly one of the most sinister things I’ve seen coming from Bergoglio thus far, but I think few people will understand how serious it is or could be.
Hardly anyone gives a moment’s thought to cloistered nuns. Once they’re inside, the world forgets about them. But contemplative religious life is like the mitochondria of the Church. The power source of the cell that makes all the other systems function. The mitochondria are the most unobtrusive and hidden of the organelles of the body, and for a very long time their purpose was not fully understood. But now we know our lives depend on the health of this tiny, secret and hidden little thing. And mitochondrial disease – when the mitochondria fail to function – is devastating.
I believe that one of the major causes of the great collapse of Catholicism has been the torpedoing of the religious life. And make no mistake, that was done deliberately, consciously and with great malice. I believe that the two things that had to happen to effect the result we have seen, was the attack first on the Mass and then on the religious. It was necessary to stopper up the two great conduits of grace into the lives of the Faithful, the Holy Sacrifice and the life consecrated to prayer and penance. Both have been nearly destroyed by the revolutionaries, and what survives of both are now under renewed attack.
Let’s look first at the relevant sections of the document at hand. Titled Vultum Dei Quaerere, it was issued today, the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene (recently restored to the Novus Ordo concentration camp.) As someone said today, “once you get the sugar out of the way” there are some deeply disturbing items in there, if you know something about how the religious life works and something about the kind of men who are now in charge.
Mandated formation period: “no less than nine years
”First the document has mandated something that no pope has ever tried to do, to require a uniform length of time for formation for all contemplative communities, and one that is considerably longer than most communities currently have. This was the first thing I heard from a contact in Rome who called me this morning to ask how long the usual time is for formation. I said it varies from order to order and house to house, but generally it’s six months for postulancy, two years for novitiate and then three for “temporary” vows.
The trend since the Tridentine reforms has been to longer and longer preparation periods, and some of the cloistered orders extend this up to seven years. There have been some theologians decrying this trend saying that it is harmful to the religious and to the monastery community.
But that is all over now. Section 15 says, “They should ensure that candidates receive personalized guidance and adequate programmes of formation, always keeping in mind that for initial formation and that following temporary profession, to the extent possible, ‘ample time must be reserved,’ no less than nine years and not more than twelve.”
In the long history of the religious life, the Church has always wisely left the details of formation up to the individual community, allowing for general norms. Canon Law requires only that the novitiate include one “canonical year”. The notion of “temporary vows” is a new one (that is, prior to the 15th century, you just made vows after the novitiate and that was that) and its value is still broadly debated. There is a school of thought that says such lengthy periods of being in this indeterminate “temporary” situation in a monastery is inherently destabilizing both to the person and to the community. Francis’ new rule means that it will take a minimum of nine years to even know whether a nun will remain in the community.
It is doubly significant since in our times, monasteries are often small groups and there are a lot of offices in a monastery that cannot be held by a monk or nun who is not fully professed. In Benedictine monasteries, only fully professed nuns can sit in Chapter or on a governing council. Only fully professed nuns can be elected abbess or prioress or subprioress. Only fully professed nuns can even have a permanent choir stall in some places. One is, simply, not fully a member of the community until final profession.
There are a lot of implications for this from various perspectives, but think of this for a moment. Some contemplative communities accept women up to age 45 (Carmelites and Benedictines in England and Visitandines everywhere). A person who has a “late” vocation and enters at that age will not be able to even know if she will be able to stay, to “burn out her life for God,” until she is 54. She will not know if she is even going to remain . . .