Another view of Pope Francis’ correction of women religious

It is hardly a surprise that bloggers and Catholic media outlets are not writing in greater detail about what Pope Francis told the international sisters group the other day.

Given that the American sisters over there were wowed by the fact that Francis spoke to them, that they heard the odd comments of Cardinal Braz de Aviz, and that most of them have no idea what Francis said in his Italian address, I am not surprise.

This is weather-vane stuff.  More people ought to be interested in this, but… hey.

In that light, I point you to a piece by Jeff Mirus at   Mirus gets it right, but has a slightly different angle on it than I have.

He starts off:

Pope Francis has begun his assault against the secularization of religious life, attacking the late-20th century tendency to separate religious commitment from the Church in order to serve the spirit of the world. We have seen this tendency in the shift to purely secular service among women religious, accompanied by New Age spirituality and feminist careerism. We have seen this tendency in the penetration of Modernism into religious formation, the fostering of homosexuality in religious life and, among male religious at least, also pornography and even sexual abuse.


And this may be the money paragraph:

The latest evidence of the widespread rebellion against the Church was found in the effort of Sister Mary Lou Wirtz, President of the International Union of Superiors General, to derail the reform of the Leadership Conference for Women Religious last Tuesday. Sister Mary Lou claimed that the nature of authority and obedience had changed since Vatican II, that the LCWR wanted to focus on what “Gospel leadership” means today, and that the Vatican was clearly not interested in that topic.


But Pope Francis cannot be fooled in this. He has experienced the rot in religious life first-hand; he was marginalized by his Jesuit Superiors as a young priest, just as true men and women of the Church in so many religious orders have been for the past two generations. [It is important to get this piece of the narrative out there.  It is a surprise how many people still don’t know this part!  Mark my word: most Jesuits choked on the news of the election of Bergoglio.] This is an open scandal, and one of the key questions surrounding the election of Pope Francis has been whether he would find a way to escalate the fight. To put the question clearly: Will he shift from words to discipline?

We don’t know yet, but it has not taken him long to respond to Sister Mary Lou or to go on the offensive verbally in a tone which sounds suspiciously like he is ready to lay down the law.


Mirus got it.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Johnsum says:

    One of the major principles of command, according to military hand books, is to never give a command you cannot enforce. I imagine one could also add commands that you do not intend to rigorously enforce. This advice makes a lot of sense. For this reason Pope Francis will have to take action soon on a number of issues he has raised already or his calls for reform will be largely ignored. My guess is that he knows this and words will be followed by actions before too long.

  2. Gregg the Obscure says:

    While Mr. Mirus is right to call out the problems in religious life in recent decades, the problem he describes isn’t exclusive to the current dark age except in some of its particulars. St. Faustina Kowalska in the early 20th century, St. John of the Cross in the 17th century and many other holy men and women faced significant resistance from others in their communities.

  3. Interesting emphasis on “sentire cum Ecclesia.” Which nothing to do with “feelings.”

  4. Gaetano says:

    I hope we can learn more about Pope Francis’ experience of marginalization in the Jesuits. I suffered terrible oppression, marginalization and outright psychological abuse for my tradition/orthodox views while in religious life in the 90’s. Those experiences broke my spirit, and destroyed my vocation and mental health.

    It would be helpful to hear the story of one whose vocation endured and was redeemed to the point that he became Pope. Dare we hope that he would root out the pestilence that has so thoroughly contaminated certain religious orders.

  5. McCall1981 says:

    @ Gaetano,
    Interesting that you bring this up. I live in the Diocese of Oakland, where Pope Francis recently appointed a new Bishop (Fr. Michael Barber), the first fellow Jesuit he has appointed. I read up on Fr. Barber, and many people that know him were commenting that his story was very similar to Francis’. He had been marginalized by those in his own order for being too “rigid” and orthodox, but has now been “brought back” by Francis. The speculation was that Francis saw something of a kinship withFr. Barber.

  6. anilwang says:

    “Will he shift from words to discipline?”

    I think history is the best indication. How did he handle the reform in his diocese?

    My own take, which is confirmed by McCall1981’s comment, is that he’ll at minimum pick “the underdog” when he selects bishops, since they’re more likely to ruffle feathers that need ruffling. A practical side effect might be that good orthodox priests in safe diocese with orthodox bishops might be passed over since they aren’t proven street fighters, or he’ll transfer good orthodox priests in safe dioceses to unsafe diocese so they can suffer and prove themselves. We’ll see.

    Since he’s also very strongly against secularism, I’m not at all surprised that he’s also strongly in favour of Charismatic Catholicism, since the two are fundamentally incompatible. That might mean that he also has a preference for charismatic and orthodox traditionalists who have a history of preaching against secularism and marginalize priests who are orthodox but give homilies that avoid topics that might aggravate more worldly Catholics.

    Charismatic Catholicism is one area that makes me nervous. Charismatic prayer groups and Fire and Brimstone preaching are fine, but when people start speaking in tongues at the consecration or start stopping people in the Narthex saying “I have a Word from the Lord for you….” something is definitely wrong.

  7. Jeannie_C says:

    Sister Mary Lou (Who?) and her own redefined version of authority and obedience reminds me of discontent spouses who claim a redefinition of the Sacrament of Marriage in order to manipulate.

  8. APX says:

    “Ready to Lay Down the Law”

    Sounds like a good mug slogan.

  9. catholiccomelately says:

    Like many recent converts to the fullness of the Catholic Church (from being a Lutheran woman minister for 30 years) …. I am so glad to know that the Holy Father is holding fast to the teaching of the Church (thank you, Holy Spirit!) May God hold him close to His heart and keep him faithdful to the teaching of the whole Church

  10. Maltese says:

    Like my 17 y/o daughter likes to say: “what-ever!” I’ll stick with the FSSPX for now! Though I do think the new pope seems like a very nice man…

  11. Joe in Canada says:

    I think the Pope could consider erecting a personal ordinariate for these women, with Bishop Bumbleton as ordinary. They could have their own documents, they could listen to God is like the Rain all day long, they could have conferences, and do stuff. It would only be a temporary measure, of course…. (as someone said, “tick tock, tick tock”)

  12. Glen M says:

    “will he shift from words to discipline?”


    As much as it is up to the laity to correct the errors of the past fifty years and rebuild the Church, the clergy need to step up and take appropriate action when necessary.

    Actions have consequences – as does inaction.

  13. Saint1106 says:

    I am frankly puzzled, astounded by the statement above, that Pope Francis was “marginalized” by his Jesuit superiors as a young priest. As soon as he finished his formation in Theology and did tertianship, he was made Master of Novices. In any religious community, this is a very sensitive position. In the Society of Jesus, the novitiate lasts for two years, so the novice master has a very strong influence on the novices. Clearly, Jesuits are vetted very carefully for this position. Three years later, Provincial (Praepositus Provincialis), which he held for six years. Then he was made Rector of the Collegium Maximum, in charge of the theologians preparing for ordination. Again, this is a very sensitive position, since the Rector makes the final recommendation to the Provincial for the fitness of the Jesuits applying for ordination.
    How in any interpretation of the word, can one state that he was “marginalized” by his Jesuit superiors, when he was a young priest? He was a major superior, in key positions of trust, in the Society of Jesus, for 15 years, staring as a young priest. I submit, Pope Francis was not marginalized by major superiors, since he was a major superior, and was re-appointed as a major superior, by the Jesuit superior General (Praepositus Generalis).
    Please, Fr. Z, be careful. [Be careful? Pah! It’s well-known about Francis. Besides… who wrote that “marginalized” in the entry, above? Read.]

  14. jmgarciajr says:

    In late 2008, I had the great opportunity to finally catch up with some Jesuit friends for dinner. (These men are never in the same time zone, so the logistics take monumental effort.) During the course of dinner, I mentioned that I had been translating some of the homilies/letters of then-Cdl. Bergoglio from Spanish to English for my blog.

    In the middle of delving into one of the main Bergoglio themes (to actively seek an encounter with God) Fr. _____, SJ, who was then stationed Rome, doing something highish-uppish, then looked at me and interjected dryly: “Cdl. Bergoglio is not highly regarded by the Jesuit curia.”

  15. jmgarciajr says:

    P.S. The abovementioned Jesuits were and are VERY favorably disposed to Bergoglio/Francis.

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