3000 religious leave religious life each year. Why? Some reasons.

I saw this at CWN:

Curial official: over 3,000 religious leave consecrated life each year [Makes you wonder how many enter religious life.  I’ll bet not 3k!]

The secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life said in an October 29 address that over 3,000 men and women religious leave the consecrated life each year.

In the address – a portion of which was reprinted in L’Osservatore Romano [HERE] – Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo said that statistics from his Congregation, as well as the Congregation for the Clergy, indicate that over the past five years, 2,624 religious have left the religious life annually. When one takes into account additional cases handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the number tops 3,000.

The prelate, who led the Order of Friars Minor from 2003 until his April 2013 curial appointment, said that the majority of cases occur at a “relatively young age.” The causes, he said, include “absence of spiritual life,” “loss of a sense of community,” and a “loss of sense of belonging to the Church” – a loss manifest in dissent from Catholic teaching on “women priests and sexual morality.” [read: LCWR]

Other causes include “affective problems,” including heterosexual relationships that continue into marriage and homosexual relationships, which are “most obvious in men, but also present, more often than you think, between women.”  [Not more often than I thought!]

The world, the prelate continued, is undergoing profound changes from modernity to postmodernity – from fixed reference points to uncertainty, doubt, and insecurity. In a market-oriented world, “everything is measured and evaluated according to the utility and profitability, even people.” It is “a world where everything is soft,” where “there is no place for sacrifice, nor for renunciation.” [The problem, however, is not just that the “world” has gone that way, but that the world’s way as been permitted wholesale into the Church and into these religious institutes with virtually no resistance at all.]

In a culture of neo-individualism and subjectivism, he added, “the individual is the measure of everything,” and people feel “unique in excellence.” “Modern man talks a lot” but “cannot communicate in depth.[Yes. Yet another reason for me to call for, once again, a deeper theology of communication, beginning with Christ as the true communicator.]

The solution, he said, is a renewed attention to the centrality the Triune God in religious life, which in turn “brings with it the gift of oneself to others.” There must be a clear emphasis on the “radical nature of the Gospel,” rather than the “number of members or the maintenance of works.” [Your Excellency… until we have our LITURGICAL WORSHIP squared away again, no other effort of renewal can be effective.]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Interesting.

    Although this might be unwelcome news to some. A canonist I know, who has worked with priests leaving the priesthood, says that the percentage who leave are pretty much the same in “liberal” dioceses (Richmond as the example) and “conservative” dioceses (Arlington was the example). The major difference is that the “conservatives” ask to be laicized but the “liberals” just leave. But the percentages are the same.

    It seems that the problem of commitment is one of the society as a whole.

  2. lana says:

    “A statistician went through the records of the old boys from one of our greatest public schools, jotting down the number of those who adopted Holy Orders as their vocation in life. His observations began with 1860 and finished, necessarily, in the first decade of the 20th century. He marked off the period into spaces of five years, and found that in each five years the numbers of those who were ordained was perceptibly smaller than in the period immediately preceding it. In the first of the periods the ratio of clerical vocations was sixteen percent.; in the last, it was something over three percent. In short, within a space of forty five years the ideal of the Christian ministry had lost four-fifths of its popularity.” (Msgr. Knox, The Belief of Catholics, Ch. 1, The Modern Distaste for Religion)

    Unfortunately, I do not think that just returning to more beautiful, reverent worship will be enough.

    I think Our Lady gave us the answer at Fatima: Pray the Rosary. Penance.

  3. The Drifter says:

    The problem is that once seminaries – and all religious institutions, for that – were tough environments. They had to be, in order to determine if individuals possessed a genuine vocation and the necessary commitment to face a life of sacrifice. For sure, the drop-out rate was substantial among novices and first-second year seminarians, but the vast majority of those who kept going turned out to be solid in every sense. I wonder if our spiritual leaders realize that while regular army units face difficulties in recruiting and keeping the right type of people, there is a long waiting list for joining an elite corp.

  4. Jack Hughes says:

    When one says 3000 it sounds like allot but I think we need to drill down (to use Father’s words), are these fully professed religious ? Or are these posulants novices and those in temporary vows?

  5. Robbie says:

    Clearly, they’re leaving because the Council hasn’t been fully implemented yet!

  6. CatholicMD says:

    It’s at least reassuring that Abp. Carballo points out the reasons (liberalism) why so many leave.

  7. robtbrown says:

    Fr Augustine,

    All formation must do two things: 1) Create circumstances in which someone can decide whether or not to proceed with a lifetime commitment, and 2) If someone decides to continue, provide the wherewithal to persevere.

    The question must be asked whether vernacular liturgy not only doesn’t encourage commitment but but whether it actively promotes a culture of the temporary, discouraging commitment.

    Religious groups that use Latin liturgy have almost no attrition after ordination or final vows.

  8. Jim R says:

    I sure don’t profess to know all the reasons or “the” solution, but I am quite sure if you: reject the liturgy of the Church; reject the theology of the Church; reject the polity of the Church; reject the soteriology of the Church; reject the eschatology of the Church; reject the prayer life of the Church; cannot deal with the history of the Church; hate the Church; etc., …you are unlikely to remain committed to the Church and your vows. Social work is a valid and important activity, but becoming a social worker who wears bad clothes, doesn’t date, doesn’t marry, hates the “Company” and the “Boss” and all they stand for, is what too many members of too many orders have become.

    What’s stunning is that apparently this has not been recognized until now! If the very base is not love of God and His Church – no one with integrity would remain in orders. You’d be crazy to do so.

    “[T]he centrality the Triune God in religious life, which in turn ‘brings with it the gift of oneself to others.’…” seems to me to be a good place to start when looking for a “solution.” I will admit, however, that the use of the phrase the, “radical nature of the Gospel,” gives me pause as that phrase is often used as a justification for all the ills I first listed. While it’s true the Gospels are radical, it’s also true that that phrase has been co-opted by those who would use it to destroy the Church. I fear Archbishop Carballo may have already drunk the “kool-aid” so that he can’t turn things around.

  9. lana says:

    “Religious groups that use Latin liturgy have almost no attrition after ordination or final vows.”

    Where do you get that statistic? I have read somewhere a very long list of SSPX members who have left, and not for the FSSP. They become sedevacantists or just disappear.

  10. jbas says:

    I’m just a secular priest, but I have noticed that it seems easier for unhappy religious I’ve known to leave religious life than to transfer to a more suitable congregation.
    Similarly, in my experience, it’s easier for a diocesan priest to leave the clergy entirely than to reincardinate elsewhere.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

    [You put your finger on a very sore spot. These days, the least valued person in the Church may be the doctrinally faithful diocesan priest.]

  11. Cafea Fruor says:

    @Jack Hughes: I had the same question, so I looked at the article, and I think, says that those who left temporary vows were not included. It says, translated, “According to an approximate but sure enough calculation, this would mean that more than 3,000 religious men or religious women have left the religious life every year. In this calculation have not been included the members of societies of apostolic life who have abandoned their consecration, nor those in temporary vows.” My Italian’s a little wobbly, though, so maybe Fr. Z. can say whether I’m reading that last part right as religious who’ve left temporary vows or whether it means instead only those in apostolic societies who left during temporary vows.

    The Italian was: “Secondo un calcolo approssimativo ma abbastanza sicuro, questo vuol dire che più di 3.000 religiosi o religiose hanno lasciato ogni anno la vita consacrata. Nel computo non sono stati inseriti i membri delle società di vita apostolica che hanno abbandonato la loro consacrazione, ne quelli di voti temporali. “

  12. RobW says:

    Thanks for the heads up Father. Sharing on fb.

  13. Jason Keener says:

    Unfortunately, I do think the major reason the religious orders and seminaries emptied after the Council and continue to do so is because the Catholic Church is a lukewarm and non-distinctive version of Her former self. Rather than setting the world ablaze, the Church’s open windows have allowed the Church to cool to the world’s temperature. We must remember that Christ, and by extension, His Mystical Body, came not to become one with the world but to save it.

    In short, the Catholic Church must become more distinct and less-worldly if there is any chance people are going to be inspired by Catholicism. We need priests and nuns in distinctive garb pointing us to a life beyond this reality. We need Latin and Gregorian Chant in our Liturgies to help the faithful understand that the celebration of the Mass is not just another boring worldly gathering where we bring our drums, electric guitars, and tambourines. We once again need to have a sensibility in the Church where the unique role of the priest in salvation history is truly appreciated. Enough with every Tom, Dick, and Harry prancing into the sanctuary for the distribution of Holy Communion, which should be reserved for those who have had their hands consecrated for such sublime and holy tasks. We once again need Catholics to firmly and charitably tell non-Catholics they must enter the true Ark of Salvation that Christ has established or risk eternal perdition.

    You might say that I am arguing that the Catholic Church needs a new period of humble triumphalism if it has any chance of inspiring the hopeless zombies of the world who are bored with the humdrum of daily life that they cannot even escape at the celebration of the Sunday Mass in a typical suburban parish.

  14. JuliB says:

    As a gardener, I know that if my soil is not amended and cared for on a regular basis, the resulting fruit and veggie growth can be deformed or weak. I would assume the same concept is present in the life of the Church. (It surely exists in my own life beyond the garden!).

    If the yield is unsatisfactory, let us look at the root causes.

  15. frjim4321 says:

    [No more often than I thought!]

    I love it when we agree.

  16. Elizabeth D says:

    How come people who believe in “women priests” are welcomed into religious life, but I am not?

  17. robtbrown says:

    lana says:

    “Religious groups that use Latin liturgy have almost no attrition after ordination or final vows.”

    Where do you get that statistic? I have read somewhere a very long list of SSPX members who have left, and not for the FSSP. They become sedevacantists or just disappear.

    Just because they left the SSPX doesn’t mean they left the priesthood.

  18. Gail F says:

    I think Fr. Augustine Thompson, OP, has it right — it’s a problem with our society and commitment. People don’t stick with ANYTHING.

  19. rainman919 says:

    WHY won’t the LCWR types all make this number increase by leaps and bounds for 2013? What a gift it would be the Holy Mother Church!

  20. frjim4321 says:

    “WHY won’t the LCWR types all make this number increase by leaps and bounds for 2013? What a gift it would be the Holy Mother Church!”

    Wishing people to leave religious life?

    Both SAD and TWISTED.

  21. rainman919 says:

    The LCWR is SAD and TWISTED! They’re certainly not living religious life as envisioned by the Church.

  22. Rich says:

    Speaking of a “theology of communication”, I was reading Blessed Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris this past week:

    “31. Since men are social by nature, they must live together and consult each other’s interests. That men should recognize and perform their respective rights and duties is imperative to a well ordered society. But the result will be that each individual will make his whole-hearted contribution to the creation of a civic order in which rights and duties are ever more diligently and more effectively observed.

    “35. Hence, before a society can be considered well-ordered, creative, and consonant with human dignity, it must be based on truth. St. Paul expressed this as follows: “Putting away lying, speak ye the truth every man with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”(Eph. 4:25) And so will it be, if each man acknowledges sincerely his own rights and his own duties toward others.”

  23. Cafea Fruor says:

    Having once spent time in a religious community (I left before final vows because it wasn’t the right community for me) and knowing several Sisters from that community who left after final profession, I can name a few reasons why some religious leave, even from a good, faithful community, in addition to Father Augustine’s point about commitment:

    1. Burnout. The shortage of religious men and women means that religious are spread rather thin. With the best of intentions, a community that genuinely wants to respond to the need for religious in the apostolate can get its members involved in too many apostolates or spending too much time in the apostolate, thus allowing prayer and community life to take second fiddle to work. This was true in the community I was in (and it’s a CMSWR community), and I’ve seen it in a few other communities as well. The individual religious, then, can end up burnt out because her prayer life is limping, and with that, she becomes dubious about her vocation. Some communities need to learn that it’s OK not to say yes to every bishop who asks for sisters to come to his diocese, and to accept the fact that there just aren’t going to be enough religious to do everything, to remember that prayer and community life are always first because the work done in the apostolate won’t be effective if it’s not fueled by them, to and allow God to handle the rest.

    2. Along with burnout, a shortage of middle-aged religious. In my community, there weren’t enough final-professed-but-not-yet-elderly Sisters because a bunch from their era had left in the wake of Vatican II. The older Sisters (where I was, you worked until you were too sick to – none of this retirement stuff) were in the infirmary. We had plenty of new, young Sisters coming in, but Sisters in the novitiate are not available for the apostolate, and the younger final professed Sisters just aren’t as good at what they do yet as the middle-aged Sisters are, so the middle-aged Sisters who had stuck it out were doing the lion’s share of the apostolic work and were thus overburdened, and some of these Sisters were the ones I saw leave. And it was really heartbreaking to see a Sister who’d spent so many years in the community just leave.

    3. Obedience. Our culture makes an outright mockery of obedience at worst, and at best, makes it difficult to be obedient to anyone, and we’re just not as accustomed to it as were previous generations.

    4. Too much concern for numbers. Where I was, while it was a faithful community, there was too much concern for quantity of vocations on the part of certain individual Sisters in charge of formation. I, for one, never should have been admitted to first profession because I had so many doubts, but these particular Sisters downplayed the doubts, and I trusted their judgment and so I kept moving along. Fortunately for me, I was able to discern that I needed to leave before I’d made a final commitment. But a number of Sisters somehow don’t see it until after perpetual vows. Problem is, there’s too much of this mentality that says that, “OOH, look at that community, they have SO MANY young Sisters! Look how FAITHFUL they are compared to this other community that has fewer novices!”, and so a community that is trying to be faithful might think that if it has fewer Sisters than another, larger one, that it’s somehow failed. It might be true that a community with lots of young religious is, but then it also might be that aspirants vocations aren’t tested enough and that too many aspirants without vocations are admitted to profession. Or maybe God just intends community x to remain smaller than community y for whatever His inscrutable reasons are. Quality needs to be given primacy over quantity, and there needs to be recognition that large numbers do not equal success nor small numbers failure.

  24. Cafea Fruor says:

    @Rainman: No, the LCWRs are in general not living religious life as they should, but to desire that they all leave religious life is sad and, well, a distorted view of what a gift is. It’s like wishing that a marriage that’s off track simply end in divorce instead of being reconciled because religious vows, after all, are a marriage. Many of the LCWR Sisters may not look or act like brides, but if their vows were valid, then they are brides of Christ. What you should wish for and pray for is that these brides of Christ can restore their marriages with the Bridegroom to what they should be, so that their communities can become good and faithful once again. THAT would be a far, far better gift to the Church.

    Read Hosea 2 and consider what a spousal relationship means to the Lord. He did not tell the unfaithful bride that she just needed to leave. No, He promised He would fight hard to show her her errors and to win her back. Come the Gospels, He then sent His Son to DIE to win His unfaithful bride back. Do you really think that if the Lord feels that way about the bride Israel that He’d rather just let these LCWR spouses of His go without a fight and just say, “Hey, do My Church a favor by leaving”? How can you call that a gift to the Church?? Pray hard and offer sacrifices for these Sisters so that Jesus can win back His brides.

  25. Unwilling says:

    Jason Keener,
    Very nice writing/images (the Church’s open windows have allowed the Church to cool to the world’s temperature) and penetrating conceptualization (humble triumphalism). Says it all.

  26. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Elizabeth D says: “How come people who believe in “women priests” are welcomed into religious life, but I am not?”

    No kidding! To a degree this happened with the “gatekeepers” for potential seminarians with their “priest perceiver” entrance “exams”. (As recounted in Michael Rose’s “Goodbye, Good Men”)


  27. Theology Nerd says:

    This subject is painfully close to my heart. I was dispensed from my vows a number of years AFTER final profession. The community had been overtaken by LCWR radicals who were actively persecuting me. I was too old for any of the communities that would have been compatible with a traditional religious life, and, sadly, over the course of persecution by my superiors, I developed depression that requires medication. The only congregations who would take an older, depressed woman were the same types of crazies I had left. I left for my health and well being, and it broke my heart…my community was MY FAMILY…the only family I had known my entire adult life. The superiors made it clear that they “didn’t want me” and, because I had done no wrong (other than believe Church teaching…wrong in their eyes), they couldn’t expel me…but they could, would, and did double up their efforts to destroy me. I REALLY had no other choice.
    DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER…I’m sure others among the stats were in the same situation as I. I certainly don’t have commitment issues. Religious life is being destroyed from the inside in so many places. Pray for the good Sisters who are too old to escape persecution.

  28. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Dear Theology Nerd,

    Please be assured of this sinner’s prayers for you this afternoon when my family and I will be praying the Holy Rosary and Chaplet of the Divine Mercy in front of the Blessed Sacrament!

    God love you,

  29. Heather F says:

    Your comment [Makes you wonder how many enter religious life. I’ll bet not 3k!] is a great question. I wonder how many DO enter religious life every year, and also how many profess final vows. I assume the statistic for people leaving was worldwide.

    I think Cafea Fruor has done a great job of pointing out that it is likely not as simple as “it’s all the fault of evil liberals and the vernacular Novus Ordo.” (If the vernacular liturgy truly “actively promotes a culture of the temporary, discouraging commitment” I wonder how the Eastern Churches have managed all this time having used vernacular liturgy for hundreds of years…) Burnout and improper trivializing of doubts and reservations during discernment and formation are things that can happen even in the most conservative and traditional of communities.

  30. anilwang says:

    Fr Z said “[Your Excellency… until we have our LITURGICAL WORSHIP squared away again, no other effort of renewal can be effective.]”

    This is definitely true, but I don’t think it’s enough…especially among those not in the priesthood or in orders that are active in the world.

    The key problem is that since Vatican II, the religious have gone through an identity crisis. The laity seem to have taken over everything. Schools, hospitals, missions, apostolates, parish councils, lectors, EMHC, etc. And the trend is increasing. To many, there doesn’t seem much point in becoming a non-cloustered non-priestly religious since you can be just as dedicated to the Church as a lay person as you can be as a religious.

    The side effect is that all these areas now require more money to run (since the laity need to support their families and even when single tend not to “settle for the salary of a religious”), so many of these areas are also in decline. This side effect thus diminishes Catholic culture further, thus accelerates the decline. Poorly thought out recruiting campaigns that make the religious look more appealing secularist add to the decline (e.g. a recent one showed that Domincians take time off playing basket ball).

    I don’t think anyone has any answers. We need to revive the call to the religious, but at the same time, the Catholic world would be a lot poorer without all the laity in Catholic Answers, EWTN, and Church Militant TV. So I don’t think restoring the religious at the expense of the laity is a good idea. I think the way out of the religious crisis (and the marriage crisis) is to return to the basics. I don’t mean, the Gospel, since the laity can be engaged in the Gospel as much as the religious. By basics I mean, “the vow”. This is what makes marriage and the religious special an irreplaceable. Raise the reverence and respect for “the vow”. The old U.S. Military recruiting campaign “Be all that you can be” comes to mind, but in this case it would be changed to “Be all God calls you to be”.

  31. Theology Nerd says:

    Thank you and God bless you, Midwest St. Michael!

  32. robtbrown says:

    anilwang says:

    The key problem is that since Vatican II, the religious have gone through an identity crisis.

    The question is why that happened.

  33. robtbrown says:

    Theology Nerd,

    I knew an Aussie priest in Rome who had been ordained as a Trappist. After a year or so as a priest the abbot told him that they like priests to have pastoral experience. He was told to go work in a parish for at least a year. After that year he decided to stay another year, and after that he told the abbot that wanted to be incardinated in the diocese. If memory serves, he tried to return to the monastery but had lost his monastic habits.

    He told me that some time later he realized that the abbot asked him to work in a parish because he wanted to run him out of the monastery. The abbot didn’t like his fidelity to doctrine–and thought, correctly, that after a time in a parish he would be ill suited to the monastic life.

  34. Pingback: 3000 Religious Leave Religious Life Each Year, Why? - BigPulpit.com

  35. Magash says:

    Elizabeth D,
    If you feel the call to religious life and your situation in life is compatible with this call I would say do not give up you search. There are literally hundreds of different groups throughout the world. Go farther afield, even outside your country. If God has chosen you for the religious life and you persist you will find your place.
    I know of two young men who discerned the religious life. They initially approached the diocese, who did not believe that they were destined for the secular priesthood. Both looked farther. One did indeed discern that he was to enter the vocation of marriage. The other is now a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and will be ordained next year. The lesson, not every one is destined for the priesthood or religious life, but do not be limited in your search. The place where you are suppose to be may not be as close as you think or even where you think.

  36. anilwang says:

    robtbrown says: “The question is why that happened.”

    I alluded to it. (Note, I’m ignoring the Spirit of Vatican II, since I believe that there would have been a decline even if Vatican II were faithfully implemented and the Mass was largely left close to TLM, with the minor revisions requested by Vatican II).

    Vatican II’s chief message was the call to universal holiness and for the laity step forward and not just rely on the religious to spread the faith or have deeper knowledge of the faith. Despite the disastrous effect of Vatican II, this did happen to some extent. For instance, I’m willing to bet before Vatican II few of the laity read the Universal Catechism (which was the Catechism of Trent) or Papal Encyclicals, Council Documents, and from what I can see of Catholic books published before 1960 on Amazon, most books for the laity focused on the lives of the saints. Catholic publishing is a good deal more diverse now and people regularly quote the new Universal Catechism (e.g. when secularists and cafeteria Catholics try to undermine Catholic institutions) and read Encyclicals and Catholic Study Bibles are pretty common, as are lay apostolates.

    The laity moved into all sorts of areas that used to belong almost exclusively to the religious. Add to this lay lectors, EMHC, and parish councils and you end up with even fewer things that distinguish the laity and religious. If you exclude the priesthood and the contemplative orders (which are virtually impossible for a lay person to live exclusively), there’s virtually nothing that distinguishes the life of a committed lay person and a committed religious, except “The Vow”. Unfortunately, vows were de-emphasized after the 1960s, so even this wasn’t much of a difference.

    If vows were taken more seriously, then 3000 people per year simply wouldn’t leave the religious life and Catholics wouldn’t divorce nearly at the rate they are. If you “made a mistake”, it was your cross to bear and you asked God for the grace to live your vow. A decade or two of patient endurance at least would win you greater holiness so no suffering was ever wasted. Catholics have lost their sense of the sacred WRT vows and the sometimes bittersweet joy one receives from committing oneself for life via vows despite the trials, and perhaps even cause of the trials since the trials force you to learn to trust in God even more as your only hope. Without a high view of vows, we become lukewarm….we become the Church we see today.

  37. Deacon Ed Peitler says:

    It would be extremely instructive to have a list – community by community – of where the drop-outs are coming from. Departures as a percentage of total number in each community would give a very good indication of differences in drop-out between those communities that are orthodox and those known for their dissent.

  38. Theology Nerd, your story has really touched my heart – can’t say anything meaningful (other than a prayer) for you. The Lord knows though…

    Elizabeth, if you have been given a vocation, please don’t stop searching and the Lord will take you by the hand! Don’t waste any time! (I have… :( He is good and will guide you.)

    As for the 3,000 per year leaving religious life… I felt such sadness reading this. Lord, have mercy on us all.

  39. Leo.Alba. says:

    I have tried my vocation with two benedictine communities, one in France and one here in the UK and both communities had exactly the same problem and as a result failed to keep any of their new members.

    The problem is a severe disjoint between the solemnly professed and the non-solemnly professed. The professed have been allowed over the last forty years to take control of the community liturgy, in essence making it an expression of their own theology, ecclesiology and general preferences. An aspirant is attracted to the community because they see both something that they are attracted to in the pastoral life of the house and because they can recognise possible areas of growth and development. This also includes situating the growth and development of the community within the context of what is happening within the wider Church. If you appear to challenge the status quo of the house, of the liturgy that has been so radically personalised by the community, even if you are overly faithful to Church teaching, then you will be at best encouraged to leave and at worse asked to leave.

    In one house I was the only person in formation and my novice master, on whom I was dependent for my Perseverance Report, was pro women priests, pro gay marriage, thought we should get rid of the habit and wanted the office to be entirely in French. He dismissed as reactionary every young guy who visited that expressed any fidelity to orthodoxy, which seemed counter productive as it is generally orthodox guys who consider religious life nowadays. By the time I left, all we seemed to do was argue about Church teaching – I was exhausted having to defend it day in, day out. My English novice master was no different, 60, liberal, spirit of Vatican 2, Concilium reading and jealously protective of “his” vision of what the Church should be. As the new member and the solemnly professed get to know each other the radical difference in vision and expectation becomes more apparent and the community recognises, instead of an impetus to necessary change, a threat to what they have developed themselves. These communities would rather have no new members than new members who would abandon their vision.

    Also, over the last forty years, those who were able to carve out a life for themselves out in the world left for the diocesan priesthood or were exclaustrated. These departures tended to be in response the the collapse of traditional monastic life after the Council. This left behind those who couldn’t make it outside and those who saw opportunities to assert their own visions of monastic life. Canon law makes it all but impossible to dismiss religious unless they do something overtly scandalous. Sadly there are many monastics who might be described as being low level disruptives and by goodness if the liberals don’t drive you out, the disruptives will drive you crazy. I have spoken to quite a few guys who left monastic life and nearly all of us have the same stories to tell. It’s really sad as these communities are in effect committing suicide and denying many young men the chance to live the monastic life and carry the communities into the future.

  40. SpesUnica says:

    Deacon Peitler, with respect, that wouldn’t necessarily help give major insight into the situations. It would be more data, sure, and helpful in some way. You can have some religious make an exodus for many reasons, and they wouldn’t all fall nicely into traditional/progressive binaries. There are too many variables.

    There could have been a poor choice of appointment of a local superior, and in a small community, that can make life nearly unbearable. You could have had a somewhat divided or polarized community heading up to an election. The side that “lost” could have then jumped ship or gone to look for greener pastures, and that can happen to either “side” of the polarization. Shifting in leadership can lead to shifting of mission/ministry priorities, and as they shift some religious can feel like, “this isn’t what I signed up for.” I grant that we SHOULD, but I would hazard to guess that not all religious consider their vows to include a “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” clause. If your spouse gets really sick, what a cross. I also often hear, “You know he/she isn’t the same person I married x years ago.” I don’t belittle that experience, though I think it technically falls within the vows that were made on the wedding day. Doesn’t make it any easier to cope with, of course.

    Do religious realize, or do they also necessarily make, their vows to the community with similar resolution in the face of change? What if your community changes under your feet, against your will, even changes their constitutions from the ones you vowed to? I understand my vows to be to the community/family of the Order I joined, and will stay (with God’s help) with these brothers until I die no matter how our community changes. I pray that it keeps changing in the way it has been for the past 10-15 years, because that’s what I prefer. What if it starts changing “back” to how it was nearer the end of the Council? I won’t be as happy, and my “spouse” will not be the one I said “forever” to. I don’t think I’d leave, but I’d understand the desire to.

  41. Leo.Alba. says:

    Hi SpesUnica

    That was another problem too that I was aware of. You could join a community under Abbot A who had a tradition leaning and was slowly leading the community in a particular direction, a direction that was one of the primary attractions of a particular community. While in formation you get a better feel of where the community wants to go and when the time comes Abbot A retires and Abbot B is elected, and his vision might be radically at odds with the one that initially drew you to the community. Often while in formation, these changes on the horizon become quite clear and the novice or junior will jump ship.

    At the crux of many of these tugs of control between factions is often the liturgy and a community absolutely will not allow any one to get through the final Chapter if they don’t sing to the liturgical tune of the community. You might say, why should they? Often these communities have great resources at their disposal and the potential to be vibrant centres of evangelisation and renewal, but if the community has a vision of the Church that is out of step with what young people are looking for they simply die and these resources are lost forever.

    Some will try, like myself, to just get through to profession and hopefully be a point of reference for new vocations and slowly, together, take over the reins of these wonderful institutions, but, as I mentioned above, it is extremely difficult to keep your mouth shut through four years of formation in a house that thinks the growing conservatism of young Catholics is a sad and terrible threat to the Church, or that it is better to have no vocations than traditional ones.

    I mentioned the crazies in my post above, I have a little remembrance to add to that. There are those that get through of course and see in monastic life a safe and care free life that offers much but, with the assistance of canon law, can demand very little in return. In both houses I spent time in there were those who told me that if I should just toe the line to profession and then I could do my own thing. That sounds good if you want to be a faithful orthodox monk, but often these guys meant quite literally “you can do your own thing” and once again, if it appears your fidelity or orthodoxy might become a challenge to their easy life, then you will be “encouraged” to go.

    I must say that there are many good and holy monks out there, but they are battling with many disruptive community members and canon law is very sadly on the wrong side.

  42. Elizabeth D says:

    When you look at the reality of religious life you cannot help but be deeply impressed by those like Saint Teresa of Avila that really did reform religious life from within. These are extraordinary accomplishments of extraordinary individuals. Saint Teresa had great virtue, deep prayer, personal gifts, and a really excellent good friendly personality. Closer to our own time there was St Maria Maravillas de Jesus, a 20th c Spanish Discalced Carmelite nun who re-reformed her order to be more like St Teresa’s vision, creating a division among the nuns to this day and also between her re-reformed nuns and the (slightly-too-often-heretical) friars–but you notice she’s a Saint and the other (relaxed) kind do not have any Saints to boast of yet.

  43. robtbrown says:

    anilwang says,

    If vows were taken more seriously, then 3000 people per year simply wouldn’t leave the religious life

    If vows are not taken seriously, it’s because the life has become such that it is not taken seriously.

    Re the post VatII collapse:

    It is true that the emphasis on the laity has caused confusion. The Counter Reformation Church was top down and very clerical. Many of the clerical orders founded in that period had no lay association, unlike the tertiaries of the Dominicans and Franciscans and the Benedictines Oblates.

    The Vat II proclamation of the call to holiness of the laity was not an invention of the 1960’s. It was an important component in the work of Garrigou LaGrange and, before him, Fr Arintero OP (who died in 1928). And Opus Dei was of course founded more than 30 years before Vat II.

    The problem was that in introducing more lay involvement many looked to Protestantism as the model, influenced by emphasis on Ecumenism with Protestants (not the Eastern Churches). And so we can say that the introduction of the Mass as Meal concept, found in Protestantism, cannot be traced to lay involvement.

    When speaking with people who try to justify the present sad situation with reference to lay involvement, I like to mention Opus Dei (which liberals of course abhor).

    IHMO, the change from many tasks once done by priests and religious but now by the laity is simply a consequence of the collapse of clerical and religious vocations and the confused theology produced by many priests.

  44. I see quite a few comments on not being committed enough to the religious life as the reason that people have left or are leaving. That may be part of the case, but as a former religious Novice who left his vocation, I can tell you from my own perspective that it wasn’t a lack of commitment that led to my departure. It was dealing with effeminate/gay members of my to-be community that created major internal problems and ultimately led me through the direction of my spiritual director, to discern out. Our religious houses have been plundered and debaucherous behavior has in some places replaced the norm. I can only pray for a renewal and cleansing fire to relight the extinguished flame which has gone out in many monasteries world wide.

  45. Cafea Fruor, great post. I am in the same situation – tried religious life, loved it for four years, and then left before final vows because I got burnt out in the last 18 months. Too much external work and not enough internal, and our order was contemplative and enclosed, so go figure …

    Although very orthodox in belief and generally in liturgy, we had an ‘expansionist’ Superior General who decided that lots of tiny communities of about 3-5 sisters was much better than two or three large communities actually carrying out our charism, which was Perpetual Adoration. It was partly a way of her thumbing her nose at her critics and trying to show the world a much more thriving community than we actually had. I suppose I – and the 15 or so perpetually professed who also left across the same time period, right up to last year – are more victims of a desire for good public relations than anything else!

    You nailed it – the numbers game, the bragging rights about how our congregation was so much better because we had YOUNG sisters, the parading of the YOUNG sisters at every opportunity to show how thriving we were. But behind the scenes, the burnout, the failure to carry out our charism, the distraction into multiple other apostolates, a weak General Council who had been supporting the same Superior General for nearly 40 years, until no one could imagine anyone else in charge …

    And this is a good orthodox community with a good reputation externally.

    I have no regrets about my time there; it was very good for me, but I’m heartbroken to see/hear of so many perpetually professed, who I knew and loved and respected, leaving the community and often after many years.

  46. Theology Nerd says:

    Thank you, Catholic Coffee. God bless you.

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