Most religious communities in the west have been undergoing a drastic change. Their membership is aging and decreasing; they are not attracting young members as they once did; they are giving up ownership of institutions such as schools and hospitals; and they are shifting into more pastoral types of work. In much of this, they reflect what is happening in other groups in our church and society today. Historians of religious life point out that religious congregations go through cycles; many don’t last more than 200 years, so the decline experienced today is normal. Many of today's congregations were founded to do social work. In a historical context, this was an innovation.
V. It's difficult to understand why there's been such an uproar over the Visitation, as if the LCWR have been unjustly affronted. In actuality, the Church has been effectuating such investigations for centuries, overseen by Rome itself and/or bishops:
A primary purpose of... episcopal jurisdiction was to prevent the nuns and monks from falling into error and heresy. Several authors have remarked that women, especially, were attracted to various heretical movements such as the Gnostics, the Cathars, the Waldensians, and the Protestant reformers - perhaps because these groups promised, initially at least, to give their female adherents higher status and more power... the bishops were responsible for assuring the doctrinal orthodoxy of the religious communities within their jurisdiction. It was also feared that, if left unsupervised, both women and men in religious communities would degenerate into loose living.
1. Cf. P. Wittberg, The Rise and Fall of Catholic Religious Orders, A Social Movement Perspective (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994), pp. 1-3.
2. A good summary of the present situation can be found at J. Ziegler, "Nuns Worldwide", Catholic World Report, May 12, 2011.
3. P. Novecosky, "Vocation Sunday", Prairie Messenger, April 18, 2012.
4. Wittberg, op. cit., p. 6.
5. Ibid., pp. 79-80.