“Rome, we have a problem.” Ed Peters on … surprises?… in new document on Consecrated Virginity.

TIMING is everything.

Right now the US Association of Consecrated Virgins is in their annual meeting.

THAT’s when this happens?

Some time ago, Holy Church decided to revive a state in life, a vocation, that was once identified and lived in the early Church: the Order of Virgins… a life of consecrated virginity for women.  However, over time, it became apparent that the criteria and purpose of this vocation needed some clarification. Hence the Holy See finally issued a document.

What could go wrong with the identifying the criteria for virginity?  Right?

Distinguished canonist Ed Peters has taken a look at the new document from the Holy See about consecrated virginity.   I’ve only briefly perused it and not yet commented.  However, in a nutshell he states a problem with it that I noticed.  It’s sort of a big one.

Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago punts on one problem, fixes a second, but greatly worsens a third

With papal approval the Roman dicastery in charge of consecrated life has just published an important document on consecrated virginity, Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago. Now, according to the plain terms of ESI, the Blessed Virgin Mary, archetype of virginity consecrated to God, would not be eligible for admission to the order of virgins, but Mary Magdalene, model for women who, Deo gratias, set aside a promiscuous life, would be eligible.

Something, I suggest, is seriously wrong with such norms.

Did you get that?

Peters has more to say.  HERE

I think I’ll let him say it.

He does bring up something that I have long advocated: an Order of Widows.

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  1. JesusFreak84 says:

    I’m curious where either set of rules, 1970 or the new ones, leave a woman who lost her virginity through rape. Is a woman barred from becoming a Consecrated Virgin because of a forced loss of virginity, one that could well have happened while, God forbid, she was still a child, or even as a teenager or young adult? I know God’s ways aren’t my ways and my definition of “fair” hardly matters in the grand scheme of things, but barring a woman in that situation seems grossly unjust.

    Also, if a woman is attached to her local See in this vocation, what happens if she moves away? I’ve lived in 3 different Sees at different points in my life, and this vocation does not seem…portable…

  2. Benedict Joseph says:

    Dare we suggest an order of Penitents? Perhaps that would injure the psyche but at least it would be honest. I seem to recall that there was a contemplative branch of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd called the Magdalenes — post V2 they toned down the moniker to Sisters of the Cross. My understanding was that they indeed were penitents. Their habit was very similar to the Discalced Carmelites — we had a group in my home town, though not many people knew of them. I had the good fortune to meet them once as a teenager.
    St. Therese in one of her letters states that she would have joined the Magdalenes had the Lisieux Carmel rejected her.

  3. Charles E Flynn says:

    Just yesterday, I noted to myself that Dr. Ed Peters had not been in the news I see for a while.

    If this regrettable development were an episode episode of the original “Star Trek” TV series, the voice of Nurse Chapel would be heard over the intercom:

    “WARNING: words no longer retain their original meaning”.

  4. Shonkin says:

    This entire discussion seems odd, even weird, to me.
    Nuns take a vow of celibacy (along with vows of poverty and obedience) to serve God unselfishly and unreservedly. That is a good reason for a woman to remain a virgin for life, or (like M0ther Seton) for a widow to live a celibate life to serve God.
    For a woman who does not join such a religious order, the highest good is marriage and, if possible, motherhood. Saint Paul did not consider marriage the lesser of two evils; he considered it the lesser of two goods. For men and women who are not called to celibate life as sisters, brothers, or priests, marriage and parenthood is the greatest good.
    I wonder what good purpose is served by having an order of virgins who do not teach, do not serve the sick or poor, do not enter the contemplative life, and do not take vows of poverty and obedience, but simply refrain from procreation. As a married man and father of four, I can certify that perpetual virginity with no other obligations would be a much more restful life than parenthood — less fulfilling, less holy, but less stressful. But we are not called to be slackers in this life, are we?
    Am I missing something here?

  5. It is exactly the thought I had, why not an order of penitents?

    Grace doesn’t come cheap. In the life of a consecrated virgin or an penitent. A penitent does not want to be lied to and to even ascent to that, even mentally, fails in some degree to give glory to God in His great goodness for having given the grace of repentance.

    Also, glory and honor is due to God for calling certain souls to consecrated virginity. It is not a trivial thing, not at all. If people knew the beauty of such a consecration and living this out, then what would I think follow naturally is not pandering to penitents but a mutual admiration for the reflection of God they see in each other.

  6. originalsolitude says:

    Fr. Z and Dr. Peters,

    I wonder whether the Congregation for Divine Worship had been consulted. In 2008 then Archbishop Raymond Burke and consecrated virgin Judith Stegman addressed an international meeting of consecrated virgins. I set out below the relevant extracts from both talks. Judith Stegman referred to Archbishop Burke writing to the CDWDS.

    Judith Stegman:
    “Wanting clarification of the matter from Rome so that there would not be a continued confusion, Archbishop Raymond Burke, Episcopal Moderator of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, wrote a letter to Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He wrote to confirm his interpretation of the following passage from the Introduction to the Rite of Consecration for a Woman Living in the World: “neque publice seu manifeste in statu castitati contrario vixerunt”, translated as “has not lived in open or public violation of chastity.”

    “Archbishop Burke’s letter explained, “Sometimes the language ‘publicly’ has been interpreted as living in a notorious state of a lack of chastity. I have always understood this to mean simply that the acts are public, namely, committed with another person.” The Archbishop explained his position on this delicate, and yet important question, saying that in the case of a woman who has engaged in sexual relations with a man and then has thoroughly repented and now desires to consecrate her life to Christ and the Church, he has offered counsel to such women who in fact do not have the gift of virginity to offer to our Lord, that they should make another form of consecration, usually a private vow of chastity. He requested an interpretation of the text in question so that there not be a continued confusion, causing scandal among the faithful and causing hurt to the individuals involved.

    “Archbishop Burke’s letter also explained his understanding in the case of a woman who, as a youngster, was sexually abused by her father or by another man, but without her consent. He said that he has understood that in such cases of rape or incest, in which the loss of physical virginity was not intended by the woman, she could still receive the consecration of virgins living in the world.

    “The response from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments stated concurrence with Archbishop Burke’s interpretation of the text”. [The text of this response is set out in footnote 15.]

    Footnote 15:
    “Letter to His Excellency, the Most Reverend Raymond Burke, Archbishop of St. Louis, dated April 4, 2007 the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, signed by Archbishop Albert Malcom Ranjith, Secretary. “This Dicastery concurs with the propriety of Your Excellency’s interpretation according to which women who have lost the gift of virginity by knowingly and deliberately engaging in sexual relations should not be received as consecrated virgins, but may be encouraged to make another form of personal consecration. It is reasonable to assume that the wording of n.5a of the Praenotanda of the Ordo Consecrationis Virginum, cited in Your Excellency’s letter, contains the phrase publice seu manifeste in order to avoid a possible inference that anyone should be required to make a manifestation of conscience in the external forum, since such a requirement would clearly violate the Church’s ancient praxis regarding all matters of conscience. Still, it seems clear that if a loss of the gift of virginity is ascertained in the external forum during the course of one’s petition for reception as a consecrated virgin, then such a woman should not be so received. If the same is ascertained in the internal forum, however, then the woman should simply be counselled to withdraw voluntarily – even though there would be no way for such a counsel to be enforced as a precept.”

    Archbishop Burke:
    “15. The requirement of never living publicly or manifestly in a state contrary to chastity guarantees the integrity of the consecration. In other words, the consecration is for women who has preserved her virginity and offers her virginity to Christ and His Church for consecration. Public or manifest acts are committed with another and, therefore, are clearly known by another, even if by only one individual. An act contrary to chastity in what pertains to the state of virginity is the conscious and deliberate giving of one’s body for sexual union by which the state of virginity is lost. Once the virgin has knowingly and willingly given up her virginity, even by a single act, she no longer has the gift of virginity to offer to Christ and the Church. In the case of rape or involuntary incest, one can rightly say that the woman still has the gift of her virginity to offer for she has not knowingly and willingly given it up.”

    Stegman, J. M., “Virginal, Feminine, Spousal Love for Christ”, Sequela Christi, 2009/01 (Rome: Periodica Congregationis Pro Institutis Vitae Consecratae et Societatibus Vitae Apostolicae, 2009), p. 134-135.

    Burke, R. L., “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: The Rite of Consecration and the Vocation of Consecrated Virginity Lived in the World”, Sequela Christi, 2009/01 (Rome: Periodica Congregationis Pro Institutis Vitae Consecratae et Societatibus Vitae Apostolicae, 2009), pp. 95-96. Also available at : http://diolc.org/files/consecratedlife/Archbishop%20Burke%202008%20Presentation.pdf

  7. teomatteo says:

    I’m not smart enough to follow the future trail of this new def. but it does leave me with the thought that the homosexualist will somehow find it to their liking. How? I dontknow. But i dont trust them any further than i can throw ‘m.

  8. APX says:

    For those interested, here’s the document i. It’s entirety. There are more problems, such as the suggestion that one can simply be dispensed from being a Consecrated Virgin, which has time and time again said that it cannot be dispensed from such as Solemn vows.

    It also deals with the issue of moving dioceses, being dismissed from the Order of Virgins, etc.

    One of the consecrated virgins is a pretty knowledgeable Canon Lawyer. It would be interesting to get her comments on this.

  9. APX says:


    Nuns make a vow of chastity (not celibacy), which isn’t the same as virginity, which is an even greater good.

    As for your comment regarding then highest state a woman can achieve outside of entering a monastery is being marriage and motherhood, that’s actually false. Despite being a Sacrament, marriage isn’t higher than the virginity or chastity dedicated to God. IOW, even a private vow of chastity is a higher state than marriage. The highest state a woman could achieve would be to profess solemn vows and receive the consecration of virgins, which some orders still do (very few, but they’re out there).

  10. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: Cardinal Burke above, he didn’t pull this out of nowhere. It’s an ancient principle of the Church, first fully articulated by St. Augustine in The City of God, that you can’t lose your virginity by being raped. (And that women who have had sex are not the ones sinning against chastity if raped.)

    This went against the pagan Roman ideas of virginity and chastity, in which it was proper to kill oneself if in danger of raped or if one had been raped. Some Christians had subscribed to this, not knowing better.

    Re: consecrated virginity as a state of life — First off, there’s no call for a state of life to be “useful.” A day-old baptized baby performs no function, except that of being a saint. Utilitarianism is a heresy of modern life.

    Second, consecrated virgins are a more ancient state of life than nuns; nuns draw from them, not the other way around. Consecrated virgins pray for the Church, just like other religious. They have to support themselves unless the Church or their families support them; but working from home has always been something that many women have done.

    Third, it’s abundantly obvious that, in a world where many dioceses have no nuns or sisters, or in which all the nuns and sisters are in orders that refuse to reform themselves, or in which nuns and sisters cannot exist openly, that bishops can more easily create consecrated virgins whenever women are called to that vocation.
    Most religious orders ban entry by women who are much younger than their founders, but older than 25 or so; and yet we live in a world where one is barely considered a responsible adult before the age of 25, where education continues until after such an age.

    There has never been a time or place when all Christian women married, except for a few sisters or nuns.Even in the early Protestant attempts to create polygamous societies, or in early Mormon/Latter Day Saints communities, or in Muslim societies, there have always been “spare” women who remained virgins all their lives, by choice of their own or of the men around them. I hate to burst your bubble on this, but it is just a fact. (Unless you live in a pagan Roman society where masters routinely slept with all their servants… and sometimes not even then….) Even in decadent societies, sex is all about choosiness.

  11. Elizabeth D says:

    Interesting to me that immediately people think of an “order of penitents”. I sent a description of such a vocation to my bishop a year or two ago and heard back from Fr Z’s next door neighbor that it was not a vocation (!) because the order of penitents historically is not a vocation, however this was the name his mind thought of for it and is not what I called it because historically that has another meaning that is clearly not a vocation but had to do with historical practice of the Sacrament of Penance. I just called it a female penitent vocation. It clearly upheld the Catholic tradition’s understanding of virginity and even referred specifically to St Jerome. Not only Fr Z’s next door neighbor but other priests with advanced theological degrees all said it was theologically sound. I would think he would be thinking of that now. This new Vatican document seems unsound from its foundations, since the remainder of it is not really referring soundly to virginity if it defines it in that way. It is saying beautiful things about a more arbitrary grouping of women.

  12. APX says:

    For those who aren’t particularly familiar with Consecrated Virginity and their role in the Church, or how they differ from other forms of consecrated life, I think it warrants educating oneself on it. There’s a blog by a consecrated virgin who is also a Canon Lawyer which does a great job thoroughly explaining things. http://sponsa-christi.blogspot.com/?m=1

    Consecrated Virgins image the Church, the Virgin Bride of Christ, and are specifically called to a life of spiritual motherhood in a very distinct manner, praying for the Church and her priests and children, the conversion of sinners, etc. Imagine if every parish had a consecrated virgin praying and doing penance for it and its members alongside with the priest(s) who serve that parish.

  13. CAB says:


    The blogger http://sponsa-christi.blogspot.com/?m=1 is refuting the piece by Ed Peters, which Fr. Z links to, in canon law forums.

  14. APX says:

    In the ancient Church the Order of Penitents were people who committed grave sin and presented themselves on Ash Wednesday. It wasn’t something permanent such as the Order of Virgins or the Order of Widows. There are options out there if one feels called to a life of penance, but these things must be discerned with a competent spiritual director.

    Ther are other issues that seem to crop up in dioceses with Consecrated Virgins. Some bishops have required them to make a promise of obedience such that a priest makes, which isn’t part of the vocation (especially since they’re not incardinated into the diocese and financially supported by the diocese).

  15. oklip955 says:

    Just a note, Cardinal Aziz did tell that there is a Rite for Consecration of Widows but has not yet been release but would be soon. This was around 2 years ago. I guess they are still working on the details. I am a consecrated virgin per canon 604. I am still looking at and studying this new document. It will be interesting to see the response of our bishops Sonkin per the rite, Never forget that you are given over entirely to the service of the Church”

  16. Shonkin says:

    To APX: Thank you for the comments and explanation. The original post and the Ed Peters essay left quite a few questions in my mind, and “consecrated virginity” appeared to entail no more than taking a vow to refrain from marriage. (Okay, also to refrain from illicit sex, but there’s not much point in taking a vow not to do what you should not be doing anyway.)
    That is why I asked whether I was missing something here. Now I see that the consecrated virgin takes on some religious obligations too and is actually part of a religious order even though she does not live in a convent.

  17. APX says:


    Consecrated Virgins don’t make vows, nor are they part of a religious order. They aren’t religious, but consecrated women.

    The Rite of Consecration is very similar to the Rite of Ordination, but a wedding as well insofar as virgin(s) traditionally wear a wedding dress (I have seen some pictures of women wearing an alb, which I think is inappropriate, especially since the virgin is supposed to image the Virgin Church which is described as a spotless bride adorned for her husband. A beautiful and modest wedding dress is absolutely appropriate (and a great witness to modesty in dress so often disregarded at Catholic weddings by brides wearing immodest wedding dresses). Much like ugly polyester vestments and ugly chalices, etc I think it’s a false sign of humility to dress down for the Rite of Consecration. Yes, ultimately the Consecrated Virgin is the Bride of Christ Crucified and is called to ultimately be Crucified with Christ, but still, our Church is a beautiful spotless bride and should so represent the Church as such on her day of Consecration ) and receives a veil like that of a bridal veil, and receives a ring. The ancient rite also had the crowning of virgins like that of crowning ceremony Eastern Rites have during their marriage ceremony.

    There is the Examination during which the bishop asks the virgin, “Are you resolved to persevere to the end of your days in the holy state of virginity and in the service of God and His Church?”; “Are you so resolved to follow Christ in the spirit of the Gospel that your whole life may be a faithful witness to God’s love and a convincing sign of the Kingdom of Heaven?”; “Are you resolved to accept Solemn consecration as a bride of our Lord Jesus Christ, the sin of God?” To all of these the answer should be “Yes”. Following the examination, the virgin prostrates on the ground while the Litany of Saints is sung (which is supposed to be the actual Litany of the Saints and not that ever so popular Becker song version which doesn’t actually refer to anyone as “saints” and invokes Origen who is not a saint) during which there is an additional oration added to it by the bishop. Following that, the virgin kneels at the feet of the bishop and places her joined hands in his hands and says, “Father, receive my resolution to follow Christ in a life of perfect chastity which, with God’s help, I here profess before you and God’s holy people.” Immediately following this, the bishop sings or sadly more commonly, recites, the long and rich prayer of consecration over the virgin(s).

  18. Charlotte Allen says:

    With all due respect to Dr. Peters, the Church has for millennia recognized a variety of forms of female asceticism, some of which have gone in and out of style as the centuries passed. Some of those forms have demanded living communally by a formal rule, some have demanded merely living communally and piously, and some have merely required that the adherent live a pious life.

    During the fourth century, for example, wealthy Christian women (St. Macrina, sister of St. Gregory of Nyssa, was a prime example) turned their houses into communities of ascetic women. During the high Middle Ages, women, some single, some widowed, became “anchoresses,” literally walling themselves into small rooms adjacent to parish churches. The Beguines were a kind of lay sisterhood of the late Middle Ages, living communally but having no formal rule, who devoted themselves to charity and perfecting their own religiosity. None of those particular forms of female religiosity have survived to this day.

    Consecrated virgins–women who chose not to marry in order to dedicate themselves to Christ– were a feature of the very early church (Tertullian mentions them)–but that particular mode of female asceticism seemed to have died out by the sixth century, when living in nunneries became the rule for religious women. Of late, consecrated virginity has enjoyed a revival–and this seems to be a bone of contention for Dr. Peters.

    Would Mary, the mother of God, not qualified as a consecrated virgin, while Mary Magdalene, traditionally identified as a reformed prostitute, would have somehow qualified despite the carnal calling to which tradition has assigned her? I think this is a false dilemma. “Consecrated virginity,” like “anchoritism” or the vocation of “nun” are simply formal categories for specific forms of Christian female religiosity that have responded to the demands and needs of the times in which their adherents have lived. Those forms have their own rules and standards. So, yes, Tertullian would probably not have pigeonholed Mary as a “consecrated” virgin despite her perpetual virginity, not only because she married Joseph but because she didn’t go through a specific rite of consecration and was not recognized as consecrated. As for Mary Magdalene, there is no tradition that she enjoyed any special “consecrated” status after Jesus cast out her devils and forgave her sins. A variety of Christian traditions hold that the Magdalene either spent her last days as a solitary penitent in the desert–or became a powerful missionary of Christ in southern Gaul. “Consecrated” seems beside the point.

    I’ve made the acquaintance over the years of several women who became consecrated virgins, officially recognized as such as part of a recent revival of that vocation. I have to assume that they’re physically intact, although, as other commenters have pointed out, a woman who has been raped–as many nuns have been in calamitous events over the course of history–is not necessarily a non-virgin. The revival of the vocation of consecrated virgin strikes me as an apt development in a time when formal communal religious life for women is in severe decline (yes, there are some vibrant communities, but their numbers aren’t large), and some women may not regard themselves as made for the communal life.

    That said, I’m all in favor of consecrated widows as well. And consecrated ladies who are, say, divorced but resolved never to remarry and consecrated ladies whose past lives might have raised eyebrows but who are resolved to make amends. Let one hundred flowers of female asceticism bloom!

  19. Antonin says:

    Well said Charlotte! Highly informed and much more theological grounded explanation that is much more well rounded, historical, than a strictly, narrow canonical interpretation which has its limitations when it comes analysis of these issues.

  20. Dear APX (6 July 2018 at 11:53 AM),

    It is worth noting that the “Order of Penitents” was revived in medieval Italy as “The Brothers and Sisters of Penance.” This (mostly) women adopted the style of living followed by the ancient canonical penitents while living “in the world.” During the 13th century, the penitents began to come under the direction of the mendicant orders, eventually becoming known as the “third orders.” Up to the French Revolution, celibacy (as a virgin or widow) was required to be a member of the third orders. The third orders (now often called called something else) still exist today—but they generally now have little “penitential” about them and members can be married.

    I was writing a book on the Dominican Penitents/Third Order/Laity when I was interrupted by a request to write a history of the Dominican Lay Brothers (https://www.amazon.com/Dominican-Brothers-Conversi-Cooperator-Friars/dp/1623110564). That done, I am now back to work on the earlier project. The status of my research two years ago is summarized in this talk:

  21. robtbrown says:

    Charlotte Allen says,

    I have to assume that they’re physically intact, although, as other commenters have pointed out, a woman who has been raped–as many nuns have been in calamitous events over the course of history–is not necessarily a non-virgin.

    In that case, she would morally still be a virgin. If a virgin is raped, conceives and bears a child, would she be known as a virgin mother?

    Once virginity is reduced to moral virginity, the consequences on the titles of Christ’s Mother can be very serious.

  22. Shonkin, you are missing several things:
    1. Not everyone wants to live in community. Just like when a man considers priesthood, he does not have to join a religious order and live with others. He can become a diocesan priest and live on his own.
    2. “do not teach, do not serve the sick or poor, do not enter the contemplative life” – How do you reckon consecrated virgins pay their bills? Yes, these are not the only jobs open to them: some of them may work as artists, computer programmers or indeed, at the stock exchange. But I know of a blogger who is a consecrated virgin and a secondary school science teacher. Does she tick your boxes? Also: how do you know how contemplative anyone’s life is?
    3. Your comment on “slackers” and an easy life raises the question of whether you resent your present situation. You were single once, you could have chosen not to marry. Did you get married out of a desire of self-sacrifice? My guess is not.

  23. APX says:

    I think it’s time for a reading, re-reading of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Sacra Virginitas. http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_25031954_sacra-virginitas.html

  24. Shonkin says:

    I’m sorry if I offended some folks. I hadn’t heard of the consecrated virgin vocation, and it puzzled me.
    @ Catholic Coffee, you’d be surprised at people’s motivations. My wife and I got married because we both wanted to have and raise children. Anyone who marries without the intention of raising a family doesn’t understand the sacrament. If we couldn’t have had children we would have adopted some.
    A single life for us would have been more restful but less fulfilling.

  25. oklip955 says:

    Catholic Coffee some of us CVs work or have worked nontraditional jobs. We just continue to work the jobs we have been working after our consecration. I was a firefighter and now retired. To answer the other poster, we are not slakers, we give our time to our parishes. How is up to us as far as our skills. No one would want me to sing in choir but there are other skills and things we can do. I’ve done some spraying and pest control in the past, maintained the playground and other such tasks that involve maintenance and church cleaning. Each consecrated virgin does what her time and skills allow and what the church needs are. The nice thing about the vocation is that even handycapped can be consecrated. Each has something to give to the Church. The main is a witness of being a Bride of Christ.

  26. Pingback: US Association of Consecrated Virgins condemns confusing new rules from Holy See | Fr. Z's Blog

  27. originalsolitude says:

    No. 60 of Ecclesiae Sponsae Image concerning consecrated virgins leaving the diocese in which they were consecrated, is puzzling: “Although consecration establishes a special insertion in the particular Church in which it is celebrated, it does not prevent consecrated women from transferring to another particular Church, if necessary, either permanently or on a temporary basis, for example for employment, family or pastoral purposes or for other reasonable and proportionate motives.

    Granted no. 60 provides examples of what looks like a wide range of “reasonable and proportionate motives” for leaving the consecrating diocese, but why even place restrictions?

    Of course, it is reasonable for the consecrating bishop to expect the virgin to remain in his diocese in return for investing time, discernment and resources in preparation for her consecration, but since the diocese no responsibility for her maintenance, and she is not “incardinated”, and she has to rely on her own resources, it doesn’t seem right to subject her to lifelong restrictions in her movements.

    ESI seems to see consecrated virgins through the religious filter. CVs are not religious; CVs, with widows and deaconesses, are the original vocation for women in the early Church; religious developed later from them. The Holy Spirit sees fit to revive this ancient female vocation post-Vatican II, and ESI seems to apply religious mentality in regulate the Ordo virginum.

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