A reader contacted me about a longish piece on religious life written by a Sr. Sandra Schneider, IHM, who recently has kicked up a fuss about the apostolic visitation of women religious.
My correspondent wrote:
It’s an article indicative of just why we need the Visitation in the first place, in my opinion.
He was kind enough to send a synopsis of this article, which I share with you here with my emphases and comments.
Sister Sandra is looking at data on religious life and interpreting it, and in so doing draws some conclusions. Primary among her conclusions is that Vatican II has established vowed religious as an entirely new way of Religious Life in the Church. She writes, "we (and many Congregations like us) are in the process of becoming, or already have become, a new form of Religious Life that has emerged since Vatican Council II." She says that because of Vatican II, "We are a Religious Congregation. But, as we will discuss in the next major section, our life also involves some very significant discontinuities with earlier understandings of enough of the constitutive dimensions of that life that it is really a new form in relation to traditional apostolic Congregations." [A least she is up front about "discontinuity".] She then goes on to refer to Canon Law’s references to the various forms of religious life, and says that her IHM sisters and others like them are emerging as a new form of Religious Life just as the mendicant orders did centuries earlier. [Perhaps… but they sought approval for their way of life.] The term “new form of Religious Life” would have been used, for example, of the mendicants when they became recognizably distinct from the monastics. Both forms were forms of Religious Life; the mendicants were simply, as a form, younger or newer. We are probably becoming, or have already become, a new form in this sense, i.e., a new form of Religious Life."
Now, here comes what I thought was the most interesting part, and what shows her true disdain for the Church. She makes the explicit claim that they are not bound to the institutional Church and that their mission and ministry is their own, not the hierarchy’s. [Winner winner chicken dinner! You knew that had to follow as the night the day.] She writes, "Religious Life, as a charism or gift of the Spirit, has a prophetic identity and role in the Church. [Ahhhh…. that’s their excuse. They’re prophets! They don’t have to be bound by law, or even the vows they took.] That role is not an office or official task assigned to us by the hierarchy and governed by them. This is important, especially in regard to ministry. Although we are public persons in the Church in virtue of our public profession and the approval of our Constitutions, we are not, as Religious, agents of the institutional Church. That is part of the job description of the ordained." [And, perhaps that means they are not at the service of the Church. Also, if they do have some relationship to their Constitutions, don’t those Constutitions still describe an purpose for their institutes or orders? Don’t they still describe an apostolate? A reason to exist?]
Despite her claim of discontinuity, she then goes on to claim that the modern religious are actually part of an organic development of religious life, and she compares the mobility of the early mendicants, the new form of Religious Life, with the modern day women religious, who live in apartments instead of convents, and so forth. She also goes on to interpret canon law (and she admits perhaps outside of the intent of the writers of the 1983 code) so that it permits her desire not to wear the habit. She says that by the 1983 canon placing the regulation of habit in the hands of "proper law," i.e. the law of the Order, that it is perfectly justified that they simply wear a gold ring on their wedding finger to represent their vows.
Anyway, if you’d like I can prepare you a more detailed synopsis of the document, but it’s pretty much along these lines. She attempts to prove her view of Religious Life as being in continuity with the 2,000 year teaching of the Church while at the same time explicitly admitting that she is seeking to establish a new order in total discontinuity with the Church.
No one can deny that religious life in the Church is in flux and that in every age new forms rise while older forms perhaps change or dissolve.
But this sounds entirely wacky to me.
This sort of thing is a good indicator of why there ought to be a thorough review, by proper authority, of women religious in the USA. Get to the bottom of what is going on one way or another.