Malachi Martin The Jesuits explains what happened to the the most presigious and influential religious order. Did you know that 100 Jesuits petitioned to form a separate order with a traditional Jesuit ethos? There's nothing liberal fascists hate more than the idea that they'll be in direct competition with a non-liberal alternative.
Michael Rose Goodbye Good Men is about seminaries in the USA, with a few references further afield. I've heard the methodology of the book criticised, but it tells the story well enough. The disastrous collapse of moral and academic standards, and the appalling liturgical abuses, of the 70s, 80s and 90s has not been entirely undone, but things are improving. In the meantime, of course, the loss of the good vocations from those years can never be undone.
Ann Carey Sisters in Crisis is about religious sisters (active, not contemplative, and mostly 'sisters', not, technically, nuns). Like Malachi Martin she talks in some detail about the things happening even before the Council which began to undermine the sisters, and were crucial to the rapid spread of liberal innovations during and after it.
An important factor she discusses which is easy to miss, if you are most interested in the impact of ideology, is the baby boom. The post-war baby boom put huge strain on the Catholic school system in the USA, and by extension on the sisters who staffed it. They found themselves, often heroically, working in near-impossible conditions, with vast classes and very limited experience and qualifications. The moment of crisis precipitated by the reform found many orders of religious sisters in a genuinely intolerable state of affairs, and their bishops abjectly dependent upon them and accordingly unwilling to rein them in. Such contingent human factors are important.
Carey explains how the reform was botched. Sensible-sounding but often terribly vague proposals ('simplify the habit'; 'get appropriate training for your work'; 'revise your constitutions') were sent down the chain of command and normal expectations and procedures lifted. A period of 'experimentation' was permitted. The 1917 Code of Canon Law had obviously been left behind in many important respects; a new one was in preparation and not promulgated until 1982; the Church's law effectively disappeared in the meantime. Any departure from traditions could be presented as a 'response to the Council's call for reform'; any resistance to such departures could be presented as 'resistance to the Council'. The ordinary sisters were kept in complete ignorance of the Counciliar and post-Conciliar documents: as Carey reminds us, you couldn't just look them up on the internet back in 1967. The English translations were slow to arrive, and were sometimes tendentious; most influential, on occasion, were early drafts of documents which lacked the balance and precision of the final, official, versions. Sisters were at the mercy of their leadership and canonical advisers.
|St Francis de Sales|
Female religious life in America did not die a natural death: it was assassinated, with a care and thoroughness, and the use of abundant resources, which Stalin would have admired.
Carey notes the appalling cruelty of the liberal leadership towards those who didn't get with the programme. They were, in a number of complex technical ways, ruthlessly disenfranchised from elections and silenced in official discussions. They were driven out of their orders, or confined together and isolated. As they aged their opportunity even to pray before the Blessed Sacrament was undermined, by the trashing of their chapels. This persecution, of course, is still going on.
Clearly, the confused and confusing juggernaut we refer to when we talk about 'the post-Conciliar reform of religious life' was a catastrophe. Religious life has, at its heart, community, continuity, and prayer. You can't have the religious life without a sense of continuity, any more than you can have a family or a nation. You can't have a community without a common life, lived together. You can't have a Christian life of any kind without prayer. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that many orders of religious sisters systematically destroyed each of these three things. The proponents of the reform at the Council itself cannot escape the blame entirely, of only for their appalling naivety. Never before has the Church proposed to a religious community that they pick through their traditions and junk all those which didn't seem to fit with the fads of the moment: No! The Church calls us to hold fast to what we have been given; change may be necessary, but we don't go looking for it. And yet that is the message which can all too easily be read in the official documents.
|St Jane Francis de Chantal|
Photos: images from the West window of the chapel of the former Anglican convent of All Saints, Cowley, Oxford: heroic religious women, and St Francis de Sales the friend and supporter of St Jane Francis.
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