Vatican will also have a doctrinal investigation of women’s religious communities

Who better than the National Catholic Reporter to bring you this …. hee hee…

My emphases and comments.

Vatican investigates U.S. women religious leadership
‘LCWR faces this process with confidence,’ leadership state.
Apr. 14, 2009
By Thomas C. Fox

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has initiated a doctrinal investigation of the largest U.S. women’s religious leadership organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The Vatican already announced a separate study last December to assess the “quality of life” in apostolic women’s religious communities throughout the United States.  [So… there will not be merely an investigation of the condition of and quality of "life".]

The Vatican congregation informed the leadership conference officers of its new “doctrinal assessment” in a February 20 letter, which the officers received March 10. The letter came from Cardinal William Joseph Levada, the congregation’s prefect.

In his letter, Levada explained the congregation is undertaking its “assessment” of the women’s leadership conference after initial Vatican doctrinal concerns were expressed in 2001.

Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco, was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2005.

Officers at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious sent a letter to conference members April 2 telling them of the investigation. NCR obtained a copy of that letter[I can imagine how that happened.]

The conference is an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. It has more than 1,500 members, who represent about 95 percent of the 68,000 U.S. women religious.

Asked by NCR to respond to the Vatican initiative, the leadership conference issued a brief statement.

“The Leadership Conference of Women Religious received on March 10 a letter dated February 20, 2009 from Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). The letter announces CDF’s decision to conduct a doctrinal assessment of LCWR’s activities and initiatives.

“At this time, LCWR knows neither the process nor timeline for completion of this assessment. As more information is made available to LCWR, the conference will take the appropriate steps to prepare for its participation in the assessment. LCWR faces this process with confidence, believing that the conference has remained faithful to its mission of service to leaders of congregations of women religious as they seek to further the mission of Christ in today’s world.”

The Vatican assessment has become necessary, according to Levada, because at the 2001 meeting between the women’s leadership conference and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which took place in Rome, the women were invited “to report on the initiatives taken or planned” to promote the reception of three areas of Vatican doctrinal concern: the 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, the 2000 declaration Dominus Jesus from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and “the problem of homosexuality.”

Ordinatio sacerdotalis, Latin for “On the Ordination to the Priesthood,” was a Vatican document that reasserted that Catholic ordination to the priesthood is reserved for men alone and that the church “has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”

Dominus Jesus was a declaration that, in part, insisted that non-Catholic Christians are “in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the church, have the fullness of the means of salvation” and that non-Catholic Christian communities suffer “defects.” It was viewed at the time by some Catholic theologians and leaders of other religions as a major setback in interreligious dialogue.

In a 1986 letter written by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, to the world’s bishops, he wrote: “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”

Regarding the investigation of the women’s leadership conference, Levada informed conference leaders: “Given both the tenor and the doctrinal content of various addresses given at the annual assemblies of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the intervening years, this Dicastery can only conclude that the problems which had motivated its request in 2001 continue to be present.”

As a result, Levada said, the Vatican had decided “a doctrinal assessment” of the “activities and initiatives of the LCWR would be helpful.”

Levada added that the decision was reached while in communication with Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Under Rodé’s leadership, his congregation last December announced it had begun its own investigation of U.S. women’s religious communities with the expressed aim of assessing the “quality of life” among their members and to determine why numbers of women religious have fallen in recent decades.

The Rodé study is being conducted under the direction of the superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Mother Clare Millea, whom Rodé appointed as apostolic visitator.

The new assessment of the women’s leadership conference, Levada stated in his letter, will be conducted by Leonard P. Blair, bishop of Toledo, Ohio, a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine.

Levada said Blair’s principal purpose is to “review the work of the LCWR in supporting its membership as communities of faith and witness to Christ in today’s church, and to offer any useful assistance.”

Officers at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious told their members that Blair had contacted them and they plan to meet later this spring. They also told members that they had asked for an appointment with Levada before the Vatican announcement that their conference was being investigated. The meeting with Levada is set for April 22.

The April 2 letter from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious was signed by conference president J. Lora Dambroski, Sister of Saint Francis of the Providence of God; executive director Jane Burke, Sister of Notre Dame; Mary Whited, Sister of the Most Precious Blood and past president of the leadership conference; and president-elect Marlene Weisenbeck, Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration.

Tom Fox is NCR editor and can be reached at

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Noah Moerbeek says:

    The comments beneath the Article on NCR are a real eye opener to the type of people we are dealing with.

  2. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    This is the second piece of good news in a row on your page, Father, and a wonderful thing to read just after reading about Archbishop Dolan. Seems like the Catholic Church is making headway against the AmChurch.

  3. Carlos Palad says:

    “It has more than 1,500 members, who represent about 95 percent of the
    68,000 U.S. women religious.”

    The “68,000” is from 2005. The latest figures from CARA indicate that the US had only 59,208 female
    religious as of 2008 — a decline of some 9,000 in just 3 years.

  4. TNCath says:

    Ho! Ho! Ho!

    This is going to be very, very interesting to watch. The LCWR hasn’t a leg to stand on regarding their responses to the three documents in question. They have vociferously expressed their dissent. I hardly see them backing down, either. The question is what will CDF ultimately do about them?

  5. michigancatholic says:

    Good. It’s past due. They have caused a huge amount of spiritual damage to innocent people already.

  6. JohnE says:

    Interesting that so many of the comments on the NCR complain about it as being a “witch hunt”. It seems that they too already suspect the sorts of things that are going to be found.

  7. Ann says:

    I am praying that this brings a true renewal to our women religious so that their charisms are restored for their good and the good of the entire Church.

  8. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    As Noah says above, some viscious comments on the NCR website.

  9. michigancatholic says:

    Well, I hope the CDF reads those vicious comments too. It\’ll give them an even better idea of what goes on, won’t it?

  10. “The “68,000” is from 2005. The latest figures from CARA indicate that the US had only 59,208 female
    religious as of 2008—a decline of some 9,000 in just 3 years.”

    and this trend will only accelerate as the average of US nuns continues to climb. Anyone intending to buy a convent would be well advised to wait a few years.

  11. Brendan says:

    A summary of the comments from the NCR page, referring to the Holy Spirit as “She”:

    “Those old boys at the Vatican keep trying to fight back against the Spirit that was finally released at Vatican II. The power-hungry pope and bishops are afraid of loser power. In the end, She will win.”

  12. TJM says:

    I don’t mean to be catty, but shouldn’t the Vatican simply visit various nursing homes to “take the pulse” of these “spirit of the glories of Vatican II” communities? Tom

  13. TJM says:

    By the way, I was catty. Please forgive me, but I sent the above message to Tom Fox of the National Anti-Catholic Reporter. I will report back if he has the temerity to respond. Tom

  14. Immaculatae says:

    It is interesting reading the comments under the original post.
    Many are crying out that it is a witch hunt.
    Considering the wicca- sophia- labrynth- goddess- enneagram- whatever that they
    practice this statement is not too far from the truth.

    I certainly hope the hunt(investigation) is coming to the Allegehny’s near here.
    They run a “retreat” center that has spread their pagan practices all
    around this area. Priests, religious and laypersons pay to participate in their
    pagan rituals. Purifying that order and stripping it of it’s credential’s
    as a Catholic institution would help the whole area, not just that religous order of females.
    Let’s start with some good old-fashioned obedience.

  15. caballero says:

    What we see in the comments after the article is the result of 40 years of liberal indoctrination in the American Church. But these are flesh-and-blood individuals with honestly-held–if erroneous–beliefs. These folks must be “engaged” with charity and firmness. It looked like someone–perhaps someone from here–has already done that. Good for you.

    A friend recently sent me an article, in which Br Alex Bugnolo notes the tendency of some Trads–and I have been one of the worst–to be negative, hostile, and bitter toward the “opposition.” He goes on to note the need, the imperative, for charity in all things.

    I have often thought, when reading stuff some of those comments, that there is a nice place for these people in the Episcopal Church. You know what? I was dead wrong, and shame on me for ever thinking or saying as much! These are Catholics, and we need them in the Holy Roman, Catholic Church with us. We can change hearts and minds with prayer, a joyful attitude, and substantive, rational discussion.

    FWIW, at any rate.

  16. A Random Friar says:

    I’m not sure what folks are expecting. Remember the apostolic visitation of the seminaries a few years back? There’s been a little bit of quiet correction here and there, but for the most part, business as usual, sadly.

  17. Tim Ferguson says:

    Many of the comments on the NCR site refer to this as a “witch hunt.” For once, I find myself in agreement. It is indeed a witch hunt, but sad to say, that’s not just an exaggeration or euphemism. I’ve known women religious in congregations that are members of the LCRW who are, in fact, partisans of, or at least fans of Wicca. Just last week, I had a sister show me a “wonderful” article she cut out of the local newspaper advertising a new “New Age” supply store open in the area. She commented that it’s so good these days that people can be open and accepting with their beliefs, and “they’re really not Satan worshippers, because, after all, Satan is a Christian myth, not a Wiccan one.”

    The sisters will continue to try to cast this as some sort of a vindictive ploy by “men” eager to gain “power,” although that hermeneutic simply falls flat on its face (power over what, exactly? nursing homes filled with aging dissenters, several tons of polyester pantsuits, convents stripped of any Christian religious symbolism, and a few bits of real estate that are going to be on the market in ten years anyway, due to the “demographic solution”?).

    Meanwhile, as the greying girls foam at the mouth with invective against the “new inquisition” (wherein the sisters will be persecuted by being forced to sit in a comfy chair and poked with soft cushions) and stomp their angry little clog-bound feet at the “injustice” being done to them, the good sisters of congregations that bailed out of the LCRW to form the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious will go on, doing the work of the Gospel in fidelity to Christ in the Gospel and Christ in the Church (hint for dissenters – it’s the same Christ).

  18. Immaculatae says:

    Brendan said” The summary of the comments from the NCR page, referring to the Holy Spirit as “She”:

    “Those old boys at the Vatican keep trying to fight back against the Spirit that was finally released at Vatican II. The power-hungry pope and bishops are afraid of losing power. In the end, She will win.”

    Interesting way to state it. I was just listening to a recording of Archbishop Fulton Sheen
    here: – The Demonic Today

    Archbishop Sheen says in speaking of the release of the Holy Spirit upon the Church with the Second Vatican Council that basically there was a huge increase in the activity of the demonic.

    “Whenever there is an outpouring of the (Holy)Spirit there is an outpouring of the satanic.”

    I believe these ladies making those comments Brendan quotes have declared which they have chosen.

  19. RichR says:

    I’d be interested in the growth of religious orders of women in the LCWR versus those religious orders of women not in the LCWR.

  20. Rancher says:

    The good ship lollipop that some of these “religious orders” have been cruising on for decades may just meet the same fate as the Titanic if this inquiry is thorough and serious. And many of them threw away the life rafts years ago thinking they were unnecessary. Bon voyage!

  21. Glen says:

    The comments are shocking. Are we to assume many of them were made by nuns? “Witch hunt”? Me doth thinks the ladies protest too much.

  22. This is very good news. I just wish the Vatican would take a stronger initiative towards some of the other heretics allowed to roam freely without ramification, the McBriens and Resses of the world.

  23. David Osterloh says:

    Just looked at the NCR site, wow this is a witch hunt and the witches are screaming bloody hell, a suggestion, look for tie died pretend vestments, that would be a good place to start

  24. Ricky Vines says:

    If I may add context on the culture that may be under investigation, here’s a link:

    My opinion on this is the need to refocus on their religious profession first and foremost, then the mission and relationships will be guided by their loving relationship with the Lord. Rather than obsessing on having relevant careers in the world and having fulfilling relationships, the sisters can live out the Gospel following the evangelical counsels and build the kingdom of God along the DECREE ON THE ADAPTATION AND RENEWAL OF RELIGIOUS LIFE – PERFECTAE CARITATIS. cf.

  25. paternoster says:

    Is it a “high time” now that the Holy See pull the plug or sanction
    the LCWR?

  26. How long has Benedict been Pope, four years? See how much he has done and then compare that to the languid twenty-five years of John Paul the “Great”.

  27. Ricky Vines says:

    I feel sick and tired of reading about these harsh criticisms of the late JPII. Why do people keep spitting at his grave? Perhaps, they were part of the group that was excommunicated?

    Please note that whenever a bishop excommunicates someone, he does not boot the person out. The person left the church and the bishop merely states that situation to wake the person up before it is too late.

    So for crying out loud, can we think and pray first before putting down a former vicar of Christ.

  28. my kidz mom says:

    The Cardinal Newman Society has a marvelous guide to authentically Catholic colleges.
    Does anyone know whether there is a similar guide to authentically Catholic religious orders?

  29. Dana says:

    We have plenty of nuns in the DoR who want to be priests. Let us pray that the CDF will break these and others of this unreachable expectation.

  30. Maureen says:

    The sisters in the nursing homes are the sisters who still wear habits, or who long to do so. It’s not the oldest ones that are the problems.

    Oddly enough, it’s often not the oldest ones who are dying. They at least get to live in community, have a strong prayer life, and get support from likeminded sisters — and even the frailest of them seem very strong and joyful.

  31. Paul J. B. says:

    I agree with Ricky. I don’t see much difference in this regard between the pontificate of J.P II (esp. its last decade) and Benedict XVI’s. This visitation is piggy-backing off the visitation of seminaries, which, I understand, was already well advanced in its planning before John-Paul II died. And anyway, without the charisma of John-Paul II keeping the orthodox cause from undergoing collapse, it is unlikely Benedict would now be in the position to do now what he is presently doing.

  32. There is much rotten fruit that needs to be discarded.

  33. Charivari Rob says:

    “It has more than 1,500 members, who represent about 95 percent of the
    68,000 U.S. women religious.”

    The “68,000” is from 2005. The latest figures from CARA indicate that the US had only 59,208 female
    religious as of 2008—a decline of some 9,000 in just 3 years.”

    The LCWR actually has the “59000” figure on their homepage. NCR must’ve pulled the background info from their own files and forgot to verify.

  34. Larry says:

    If you go to the site, and read the “Sister Stories” for Sr. Pearl Ceaser, you will find that she has very proudly worked with the Industrial Areas Foundation for 25 years. The Industrial Areas Foundation was created by Saul Alinsky in 1969. That Saul Alinsky being the one who dedicated one of his main books to lucifer. Could this be any more stereotypical – a “liberated” nun working for a communist front group striving to achieve “social justice” by massively transfering wealth from productive to non-productive sectors of the economy?

    I’d really like to know, why have so many religious orders, especially female ones, come to be so utterly dominated by the far left? And it is so wrong headed – you don’t up lift the poor by making the whole society much poorer, which is the net effect of government wealth transfers. Why have so many in the Church come to feel that the only way to achieve “social justice” is through confiscatory taxation policy? Are they really that poorly formed in both their faith and rational economic policy? Are they little more than far-left activists?

  35. Larry says:

    Self-update, that “main book” by Alinsky was the infamous “Rules for Radicals,” which may have heavily influenced key members of the current Presidential administration.

  36. PNP, OP says:

    Most of the sisters that belong to LCWR congregations thrive on being “persecuted” by the Church…makes them feel all “martyr-y” inside. These women have shaped their religious identity around an oppositional-defiance to ecclesial authority. Frankly, I think investigations are a mistake. The Vatican look-see will provide them with years of outrage and indignation and fuel any number of vibrant conferences in plush urban hotels.

    The LCWR and its members congregations should be left to rest in peace…

    Fr. Philip, OP

  37. tecumseh says:

    Years ago Cardinal ….not Gantin, he was from Africa….Cardinal ….Canadian, I\’ve forgotten his name was sent by Pope John Paul II \”to help the Canadian Sisters FIND their lost Identity\”
    I wonder if this will be any more successful, better to let them rot..?? that is what they want to do any way.
    I can see that Canadian Cardinal in my minds eye, he was also sent to visit Archbishop Lefebvre, and came back with a glowing report….allegedly. Not much of a chance of a \”Glowing\” support for the \”Sweaty Betty\’s\”!!

  38. Tim Ferguson says:

    Gagnon, tecumseh

  39. The contempt shown in those comments towards our Bishops and the Pope is disheartening. They call themselves “Catholics”? With such horrible things as suggesting that the Holy Spirit hasn’t been in Rome in 50 years, or that the Vatican is full of befuddled old men, or wondering who is running the Church, why do they want to be associated with the Holy Catholic Church?

    A bunch of Protestants who won’t admit it.

  40. Carlos Palad says:

    If present trends continue, how many nuns will be left in the US by 2020?

  41. Latekate says:

    Larry said:
    “I’d really like to know, why have so many religious orders, especially female ones, come to be so utterly dominated by the far left? And it is so wrong headed – you don’t up lift the poor by making the whole society much poorer, which is the net effect of government wealth transfers.”

    It is the fruit of feminism. These women look to the state to be their daddy, create “fairness” on earth, protect them. Some have been let down by men, hurt by men, reject men. Being generally a smaller and weaker sex they turn to the state to fulfill traditionally masculine/husband/father roles of protection and authority. Accepting that it is righteous for the state to fulfill those roles… Big Brother…IS leftism. The state sponsored social programs have fostered this transfer of allegiance from family to state, even CAUSED the decline in traditional family. Our dysfunction is the health of the state. And now dysfunction has been redefined as the functional, the truly functional and sacred has been discarded.

  42. Mitch_WA says:

    I assume that the LCWR has only active religious sisters not contemplatives living in cloister, right?

  43. cel says:

    I would humbly recommend to the Cardinal the use of steel mesh gloves and tranquilizer darts when doing this assessment.

    This announcement is not going to make certain people very happy.

  44. TJM says:

    Maureen, I beg to differ. Most of the Nuns in nursing homes, women in their late 70s and 80s, don’t wear habits. They were the “vanguard” of change
    in the 1960s. Do the math. It’s the young women in newer orders that wear habits and are loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. Tom

  45. John Felthan says:

    I would like to challenge this assumption that modern-thinking religious orders and diocees are starved of vocations whilst traditional orders are thriving.

    As a small Jewish man once said, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

    It’s certainly correct to say that the majority of traditional orders are attracting vocations and that their average age is low, however, quoting this fact again and again conveniently glosses over a small but important detail which puts the whole matter in a completely different light: The fact that traditional orders are small and few in number.

    A long time ago on this site (this is my first post) Fr. Z posted 2 pictures comparing religious orders. One was the leadership conference of the Jesuits and the other showed priests of the FSSP. The former were uniformly old, while the latter were young and, of course, dressed in the appropriate clerical garb. What the item failed to mention though was that the FSSP as a whole number far far less than the Jesuits, and that the Jesuits are one of a great many less traditional orders. The FSSP have about 300 members including those in training while the Jesuits have over 18,000, and the Jesuits are one of a great many like-minded orders, while the FSSP are one of a very few. The fact that the leadership conference of a group are necessarily older was also ignored in that piece.

    The point I’m trying to make isn’t about that particular post as such, but rather about the small number and small size of traditionalist orders. A fact which puts the claim of high vocations and a low average age in a rather chilling context.

    Look at the Transalpine Redemptorists – The traditionalist euphoria erupting when they reconciled with Rome, conveniently missed out the fact that there are about fifteen of them. Yes, fiftenn. Not thousands or even hundreds. Not even ‘dozens’ in fact.

    Of course vocations in these order are high. The small number of trads that exist in the world who feel called to a vocation have nowhere else to turn other than a few small groups. There are five or six orders they can turn to who have a very limited number of places. Of course they are turning people away. It’s a no brainer!

    If you look at the number of 20-40 year olds worldwide in traditional orders verses those of a similar age in modern-thinking orders then you will find that latter number far far larger.

    And, yes, the modern-looking orders have more older people. Maybe that’s because they are all aging hippies and a relic of a bygone age or maybe – just maybe – it’s because their orders have existed for more than 25 years and they’ve had time to grow old!

    My point is that you can’t point to the relatively old average age of the orders covered by the LCWR and think you have proven that ‘modern’ equals ‘dying’. The LCWR covers 95% of women religious in the US. The other 5% probably wear nicer habits and prefer their Masses with a bit more incense. For each individual order they probably have younger and more numerous vocations too. But is more by the standards of 5% of the the total really more in objective terms? No, it’s not.

    Modern times have seen a universal shift in vocations culture, and western vocations are heading downwards across the board. No doubt about that. But a little more than photographs and poorly couched statistics is needed to sustain the argument that modern thinking religious life is dying while trad religious life is taking over. The decline in modern vocations is picking up in many quarters, while the rate of growth of the trad orders is slowing almost to a halt.

    New orders always start with a boost

    In and around the 1980s traditionalist vocations picked up, but this pick up is now leveling off. Traditional orders also lost far more people than they would care to admit.

    The LCWR is strong and will stay strong.

    I also suspect that the CDF are about to shoot themselves in the foot bigtime. If they’re not careful they will have another South America of the 1970s and 1980s on their hands.

    In the meantime, however, stop playing with the stats!

  46. John says:

    And of those 59,000, how many are active and not retired? The cause of the decline of American woman’s orders is well known. It is also well known that the new agers will not comply with any Vatican directives to restore their orders.

    It might be far better to let failing orders “whither on the vine” rather than give NCR, America and the LCWR “martyrdom” press space. Once these orders collapse, they can be refounded under the charisms of their founders in the same way that an Army will re-activate historical regiments.

  47. John says:


    The decline of progresive orders is a 45 year trend, not a 10 year trend. The 45 year time frame is long enough for the numbers to average and for conclusions to be drawn. Like wise not all traditional groups have been founded recently and may be benefiting from a temporary burst of enthusiasm. The following cases of pre Vatican II traditional groups illustrate the validity of the statistics and the conclusions.

    Order of Saint Cecilia: Traditional group existing before the post Vatican II experiments. They have kept their their numbers over a 45 year period.

    Missionaries or Charity: Traditional charism, founded around Vatican II, continous expansion, demographically viable, has continued to attract western novices.

    SSPX: Foudned by Vatican II, no explosive growth, but has survived demographically over a 45 year period.Something that almost all progressive groups have not done.

    Solesmes Benedictine Monastary Chain: Traditional, Founded pre Vatican II, contnous growth and is demographically viable.

  48. John Felthan says:

    That does nothing to damage the point I made. Yes these orders are viable. I don’t deny that. But they are small and there are very few of them. That’s the point.

    Whether or not traditional groups were around before the Council is utterly irrelevant. The fact that they are small groups and that there aren’t many of them is the relevant point.

    Prove to me that the total number of those joining all trad orders is greater than the total number joining all modern orders and I’ll sit up and take notice.

    Prove to me that the total number of those under 40 in all trad orders is greater than the total number under 40 in all modern orders.

    On the street I used to live there was a specialist art shop. It always had far more people in it than the off-license (liquor store in US-English) next door and the general corner shop the other side.

    Does that mean that specialist art shops are more popular than off-licences and corner shops? Or does it mean that the specialist art shop is a very rare thing that the few people who are that interested in art will travel a long way to get to? (while the other two shops are replicated in the next suburb over!)

    It’s easy to say wow, look at how popular that art shop is! It’s doing far better than the other two shops. But you need too look at the bigger picture, rather than individual cases.

  49. John Felthan says:

    Let’s look at the orders you cited there, shall we:

    Order of Saint Cecilia: Is a tiny tiny group.

    Missionaries or Charity: Is not a group I would put within the traditionalist fold. They aren’t liberal, but they’re not trad either. Since the death of Mother Theresa their vocations have fallen dramatically.

    SSPX: Given that this is pretty much the flagship of the trad world, it’s numbers fail to impress. Less than 1000, all in!

    Solesmes Benedictine Monastary Chain: Again, less than 1000, all in.

    Let’s compare that with modern thinking orders:

    Dominicans – 7,000 male religious and God knows how many female (15,000?)
    Benedictines – All in, 10,000-20,000
    Jesuits – 18,000+
    De la Salle – 5,000

    and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. How many orders are there numbering over 10,000: Salesians, Franciscans, Augustinians… the list goes on and on.

    Even the Maryknoll priests (a lefty order mainly drawn from one country) have more than the FSSP do worldwide.

    Let’s look at another example: Traditional Benedictines in the UK… less than 200. Modern Benedictines… around 1,000

  50. Ms Jackie says:

    my kidz mom – there is actually a mirror group for female religious called the CMSWR- they are a group of religious orders (I think falling between the 50- 75 in number) that have to pledge total fidelity to Rome and the pontiff, live an authentic religious life, and for the most part all wear a habit (there are 2 that don’t but they get a pass because they were both founded in communist countries during times where it was illegal to wear one so it’s not in their constitutions). I have met many sisters from these different orders all are wonderful.

  51. I think the vocations crisis is caused by a mixture of factors, and the shoddy liturgy in most parishes is certainly a major one. But it’s not the only one; not so very long ago I heard an SSPX district superior lamenting their dearth of vocations. The hierarchies in the western world have not really internalized the scale of the problem. Indeed some are totally oblivious to it. Ireland used to a great source of priests for the English speaking world, but there are now whole dioceses that go years on end without having a single vocation (one that I know hasn’t had an entrant to the seminary in 15 years).

  52. PNP, OP says:

    Mr. Felthan, you’re missing a very important point here that numbers cannot reveal. You mention the 7,000 Dominican friars. Across the Order, the provinces that have resisted the goofier junk of the last 40 years are getting the vocations. These vocations are largely younger men who do not pine for the days of burlap vestments and the weekly protest trip to the School of the Americas. Provinces that jumped on the alleged VC2 revolution are dying. As many OP vocations directors have reported: if your province can’t/won’t demonstrate a basic fidelity to a robust Roman Catholic identity (community life, habits, devotions, etc) and refuses to give time and attention to the magisterium, you will not attract vocations. If your province has sold it souls to feminism or any of the other “ism’s” that plague the Church, you will not get vocations. The reason for this is simple: everything the more liberal groups offer prospective vocations is available in far more attractive venues than the relative austerity of the vowed religious life. Young men and women who want to spend their time protesting the hierarchy, dissenting from the magisterium, pushing feminist-reformist agendas, building Zen/Reiki/Native American sweat huts, and howling at the moon on Easter can do all those things without ever entering a Catholic church much less a Catholic religious order. Most men and women considering a truly Catholic religious life are not looking at the congregations represented in the LCRW. They are looking to those groups that publicly, proudly, and without hesitation embrace the whole of the Catholic tradition not just the last 40 years of narcissistic rebellion. Just to be clear: I am not saying that these vocations are Traditionalist. In my experience, these vocations are more tradition-minded; that is, they are rejecting the notion that religious life must be lived against the Church as if the Church were the enemy of the gospel. And thank God for them.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  53. TJM says:

    John Felthan,

    You’re missing a HUGE point – demographics. Most of the so-called orders represented by the LCRW are at or near death. When the average age in your order is 75 plus you probably have about 10-15 years left. Many of these orders get NADA, no one, as a postulant or novice.

    When one considers there were 180,000 nuns in the US in 1965 compared to 59,000 now (mostly aged and infirm) you can see this will play out pretty
    quickly and it will not be pretty. Although the numbers of the more traditional orders are not great, they are still growing, and they are young.
    I’d place my bets on them as opposed to the “glories of Vatican II” crowd, still strumming on their banjoes.

    Father Philip makes excellent points that you should consider.


  54. John says:

    “Let’s compare that with modern thinking orders:

    Dominicans – 7,000 male religious and God knows how many female (15,000?)
    Benedictines – All in, 10,000-20,000
    Jesuits – 18,000+
    De la Salle – 5,000”

    And how many of these groups are demographicaly viable and not functioning mainly as retirement homes? By this standard, even the 18,000 member Jesuits are in big trouble.

    Also, how many progressive still have active vocations programs? Some progressive groups are no longer viable by any standard, no longer seek vocations, and have merged into clusters (Dominicans of Peace). Though the total number of new trad. vocations maybe small, the yearly vocations to one trad order can be more than the yearly number of vocations to seven or even more progressive orders.

    Likewise, though the numbers in SSPX are not impressive, what is impressive is that they have grown and have remained demographicaly viable over the 45 year period. Many provinces of Jesuits have not done this. When comparing MyaryKnoll to FSSP, FSSP probably has had more vocations over a fifteen year period and currently has more active, non retired members than the far larger (on paper) MaryKnoll.

    John S.

  55. Tominellay says:

    …Bravo, PNP, OP (1:18 pm)…

  56. TJM says:

    John, thanks for your comments. By the way, I believe in the 1960s there were over 30,000 Jesuits worldwide. So things are not good there either. Tom

  57. There are traditional Dominicans and traditional Benedictines. It is a tragic shame that there are no traditional Jesuits. At this moment in time our world could really do with another St Ignatius and the Jesuit charism.

  58. TJM says:

    John, I just checked. The Jesuits peeked in 1965 at 35,000 members. In other words, they are now half their former size. Congratulations! Tom

  59. AJP says:

    I think folks are being a bit harsh on John Felthan. I find his comments to be
    very much in line with Benedict XVI’s saying that the Church will shrink but also
    become more orthodox. John F is right – in sheer numbers the modernist orders
    are huge compared to the traditionalist orders, especially the newer trad orders.
    Now I would dispute with John’s claim that the under-40 liberal nuns and priests
    outnumber the under-40 trad nuns and priests – I would bet anything that is not
    the case and hasn’t been for quite some time. Younger liberal Catholics just
    do not enter religious life – the vast majority of them don’t even attend Mass
    weekly. They don’t have the strong connection to the institutional Church that
    older liberals did, and w/o that kind of connection you just aren’t going to see
    vocations even to the Jesuits or Maryknolls.

    But it is important to realize the scope of the numbers John F is pointing out.
    In the next decade or so we may see the number of religious drop by 90% or so.
    It will be unprecedented. Yes the remaining religious will by and large be
    young, orthodox, and growing, but you still cannot brush off a loss of that
    magnitude. It’s going to be a sea change in the life of the American church.
    And it remains to be seen if the younger orthodox orders will step up and fill
    in the vacuum that will be left when the old liberal orders finally die out.
    Whatever happens, the state of religious life and its place in the American church
    is going to be unrecognizable in about 20 years.

  60. PNP, OP says:

    AJP, I certainly didn’t mean to be harsh to Mr. Felthan. Not my intention at all. I just meant to point out that the modernist orders may have the numbers–rapidly aging numbers–but the spiritual energy, the Fire of the Spirit is roaring in the more traditional orders. I lived with the Jesuits at St Louis University as a Dominican student from 2000-03. Jesuit Hall serves as the retirement and nursing home for the older guys. The younger guys lived with the SLU students in the dorms and served as spiritual RA’s. The contrasts btw the older guys and the younger could not have been starker. Simple example: the older Jesuit in charge of campus ministry refused the younger guys permission to have Adoration in the campus church. So, they took Adoration to the dorm chapels. I attended several of these. The chapels were PACKED every time the Bless Sacrament was exposed. Packed. This is what the students needed. As chair of the Dominican “Come & See” weekend, I sought permission from our prior to hold Adoration in the OP chapel, citing the great success of the younger Jebbies in the dorms. Our prior–a perfectly reasonable and intelligent friar in his late 60’s–refused us permission based on his discomfort with this sort of “devotionalism.” Again, the contrasts between the younger friars and the older could not have starker.

    Fr. Philip, OP

  61. PNP, OP says:

    This is why women religious in the US are being investigated and why they are dying out…

    “The dynamic option for Religious Life, which I am calling, Sojourning, is much more difficult to discuss, since it involves moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus. A sojourning congregation is no longer ecclesiastical. It has grown beyond the bounds of institutional religion. Its search for the Holy may have begun rooted in Jesus as the Christ, but deep reflection, study and prayer have opened it up to the spirit of the Holy in all of creation. Religious titles, institutional limitations, ecclesiastical authorities no longer fit this congregation, which in most respects is Post-Christian.”

    –from the keynote address delivered by Sr. Laurie Brink, OP to the LCWR.

  62. Ricky Vines says:

    PNP,OP: That sounds like being immersed into Tielhard De Chardin’s Cosmic Christ?

    For those of us unfamiliar with the ancient tradition of the Cosmic Christ, it means that, although in the beginning there was the Creative Word or Sophia, the Risen Christ, by the transformation that took place at his Death/Resurrection/Ascension, became not just the redeemer or personal Savior of our souls, but the Lord of the Universe, i.e., a cosmic identity.

  63. TJM says:

    PNP, OP,

    It would be interesting to know the average age of “Sister” Laurie’s audience.

    Fr. Philip is correct. The numbers are deceiving. At the end of the day those older orders who do survive will have a much more conservative
    make up and the newer traditional orders will continue to grow. Liberalism, as a force in Catholicism, is near death. Most liberals have moved
    beyond institutional religion.


  64. John says:


    Thanks for the compliment. As a side note, ultra progressive mainstream protestants hexpreienced the same decline as their Catholic counterparts. This is illustrated by the demographic collpase of Episcolpalian, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches. Of the mainstreams, only the Methodst church has remained viable, though it is not exactly growing. Methodists are also the most sonservative of the group.

    In the end, the same sociological forces that have doomed progressive Catholic orders have also doomed their Protestant counter parts. One factor, as Tom stated, is that most liberals have moved beyond institutional religion. As being “spiritual but not religious” or avowed openly secular became more sociologically acceptable in the 1990s, the liberals simply left progressive churches / orders in droves.

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