26 May 2012


I. P is for Polyester and, gosh darn it, it's a fascinating substance when chemically considered. It has many forms, natural and synthetic, though the most commonly known - as in fabric for clothing - is polyethylene terephthalate, having the molecular formula C10 H8 O4, with "PET" as the slick sounding acronym. As a material, PET is durable, stiff, effectively water insoluble and, if you've had the pleasure to observe the phenomenon, highly reflective in the visible band of the electromagnetic spectrum, whether that light emanates naturally from the sun or artificially from, say, spotlights - and let me tell you, the reflectivity effect is spectacular under an Argon laser. I've got the pictures to prove it. Polyester shines, it shimmers, it even glows on rare occasions, yielding a cornucopia of colourations. But even more fascinating than the photometrics of polyester was its meteoric rise in popularity after 1965, in the semblance of fashion statements showcased by Catholic women religious. This is a worrying situation. The combination of polyester apparel, a highly flammable material, with bouffants drenched in similarly flammable hairspray, is a five-alarm fire hazard just waiting to happen... okay okay, I'll stop. Sorry, ladies, couldn't resist.

II. Yes, ever since this blog got going in early 2009 there's been fair amount of lambasting of the Polyester Menace. Let's not forget that Mr. Scampers has levelled some broadsides, too. Your host has received criticism over it, perhaps deservingly sometimes. Though I've been vindicated in a way because in the three or so years that have past, after innumerable exposés and reports in the Catholic blogosphere, the damage effectuated by the Habitless Hordes is now demonstrated to be an indisputable fact. Endorsement of Barry and his health care dictatorship, priestesses, Gaia and goddesses worship, "reproductive health" and so forth. Sure, you have the likes of Fr. James Martin at America magazine defending the LCWR nuns with his Twitter hashtag campaign. Yet methinks most Catholics on the internet - orthodox inclined, already know Martin manoeuvres like a snake in the grass. So no worries there, ephemeral and insignificant influence, excepting with the useful idiots at the Vox Nova blog. Anyhow, Rome has delivered its verdict and the gals have been found wanting.

III. The decline in the number of women religious in the West has been thoroughly documented over the last decade or so.[1] The average age of a nun these days is about 70 years and, save traditional orders with younger postulants (which are growing, thankfully), those orders advocating social/ecological justice, feminism and New Age esoterica are gaining few entrants, if any. The biological solution is doing its cold, indifferent work and even prominent polyester pantsuit nuns are acknowledging immanent extinction. It's not all bad news, however. There is no "vocation crisis" with regard to nuns if, as a prime example, we look to countries in Africa and South Asia.[2] These ladies, too, are habit-wearing orthodoxians and care not an iota about health care conferences or the welfare of polar bears wandering precariously atop a supposedly shrinking cryosphere.

IV. Given these trends, it was astonishing (well, not really) to read the following in a recent editorial at the Prairie Messenger:

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.[3]

Three counterpoints to be made here. Firstly, in the case of women religious, decreasing membership is not so much a reflection of "our church and society" as a nearly absolute succumbing to the spirit of the world, the secular one. A qualifier should also have been made. Only membership in orders run by pantsuit fashionistas are on the decline. Traditional orders, albeit now small in comparison, are on the rise. Social stats attest. Secondly, a summoning of the cyclical fallacy. An author of a book examining the rise and fall of religious orders states: "Cyclic theorists tend to oversimplify history and to postulate the existence of regular cycles or of a mechanical relationship between movements of religious fervor and large-scale environmental forces - neither of which is empirically justified".[4] Note particularly the phrases "regular cycles... mechanical relationship" or, in Pete's case, "natural", as if inevitable, regardless of human choices involved. Decline in religious orders is "natural", like the axial precession of the equinoxes, and there's nothing human freewill can do to change the condition. Yes, the birth rate decline and cultural factors are at play. Still, this view effectively makes adherence to doctrine, to magisterial teachings, a non sequitur. Of course, this is part of the ruse - no distinction made between habit-wearing and habitless nuns. The former strive to obedience, they're growing in number, whereas as the latter are largely defiant of Church authority and oblivion now appears on their horizon. Thirdly, "social work" as an "innovation" in the Church. In the past this meant feeding the hungry, helping the poor, comforting the widows, etc. which - I'm quite sure - Christ preached 2000+ years ago. It also meant copious prayer and devotion to the holy. Call it an "innovation" if you like, though what I don't find particularly innovative is a social worker nun lounging around in her privately-own condominium suite, cracking open a few cold ones after a hard day of protesting and committee meetings. Seems not apropos.

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.[5]

Like the Protestant and Gnostic heresies, Modernism and Feminism promises women religious "higher status and more power", a euphemism for doctrinal/magisterial rejection. And the LCWR has more or less been left "unsupervised" for five decades. From what I've read and learned from private conversations with women and men religious, the "loose living" descriptor is an understatement when it comes to liberal religious orders. But, you see, the wholesale dismissal of the pre-conciliar church by Modernist luminaries, let alone the historical revisionism, has facilitated an ignorance of two millennia past, making 1965 AD into 33 AD. This is why, for example, we already have a group of uninformed people protesting Rome's final decision on the LCWR. The news report says "nearly two dozen Catholics, and even people of other faiths, gathered here outside of St. Mary's Church in a strong showing of support" (H/T Tancred at The Eponymous Flower). Judging by screenshots from the newsreel, not sure if "strong support" is an apt phrase to characterize this...
...or this...
...oh my, it is true: old is gold.

VI. The previous post addressed some reactions to the Apostolic Visitation of the LCWR - American nuns, that is. What about Canada? Currently, there are approximately 50 orders/institutes of women religious in Canada. As this blogger lamented in a post last year, it wouldn't have been that much of a hassle for Rome to check up on things north of the 49th Parallel. Alas, not much done and it's not as if the Canadian bishops are performing corrective measures. So, as a public service to any respectable Catholic ladies considering the religious life, TH2 conducted his own Virtual Visitation - assessing, screening, scrutinizing orders/institutes across Canada. For traditional orders, the following would be worthy of consideration: Sisters of Our Lady Immaculate (Cambridge, ON), Sisters of the Sacred Heart (Welland, ON), Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood (Toronto, ON), Carmel of St. Joseph (St. Agatha, ON), Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus (Toronto, Mississauga, St. Catharines, ON; Medicine Hat, AB). Not many, mainly in Ontario, although I'm sure there are a few more.

VII. Sure, do you own investigations, though it is highly advisable you stay away from the following places: Ursulines of Jesus (Prince George, BC; Edmonton, AB), Ursulines of the Chatham Union (Chatham, ON), School Sisters of Notre Dame (Waterdown, ON), Sisters of Sion (Toronto, ON), Sisters of St. Martha (Antigonish, NS), Sisters of Charity (Halifax, NS), Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul (Kingston, ON), Sisters of Mercy (St. John's, NL), Our Lady's Missionaries (Toronto, ON), Les Filles de la Sagesse (Ottawa, ON), Congrégation de Notre-Dame (Montreal, QC), Benedictine Sisters at the House of Bread Monastery (Nanaimo, BC), Benedictine Sisters at St. Benedict's Monastery (Winnipeg, MB), Sisters of Social Service (Toronto/Hamilton, ON; Regina, SK), Adrian Dominican Sisters (based out of Adrian, MI), Sisters of St. Joseph (at various Ontario locations: London, Hamilton, Toronto, Peterborough, Sault Ste. Marie), and the notorious Loretto Sisters, Canadian Province of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM).

The aforelisted are dead end LCWR analogues. Diminution and disappearance loom. Accordingly, we conclude by saying...


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.



BrerBear1861 said...

Good to see you back in action again.
You are clearly highlighting the demise of the liberal left in the Church. Unfortunately there are still many bastions that are holding out. Need I say a large population of "Catholics" in the archdiocese of Edmonton?
(I forgot my previous sign in name, but this is the same theological bear in Alberta who hath spake medicinal vitriol against the Westurd Communist Distorter in the past.)

We wait in prayer, patience and humility what the SSPX and Rome shall do, or will not do, in the ongoing days of this year of the Lord 2012. Some have called us the insignificant flea on the back the Catholic Church. Perhaps......but look what the flea did in medieval Europe. It brought the plague. So in a reverse way, perhaps the SSPX can help bring Rome out of its modernist tendencies.

Prayer, prayer, and more prayer

AllenT said...


TH2 said...

BrerBear1861: The post previous to this addressed a couple of editorials in the WCR.

Allen: Cheers for the link. Going to check out the article.

Marc Ratusz said...

I certainly did read the previous week's commentary. Great stuff.

All in all, the archdiocese of Edmonchuck......Kyrie eleison.

Anita Moore said...

So it's normal, is it, for religious congregations to die out?  Just one of those things?  Not indicative of anything in particular?  Consider two greatly divergent communities within the same Order:

1. There is the monastery of Benedictine nuns in my state.  Somewhere along the line, there was a finding that the Rule of St. Benedict was simply not enough.  The nuns wear polyester pantsuits instead of habits, practice yoga and centering prayer, and dabble in all sorts of New-Age nonsense.  This community has had two (2) postulants in about the last 20 years.  Both were middle-aged.  The youngest nun is in middle age.  

2. Then there are the Benedictine Nuns of Mary, Queen of Apostles in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph -- Bishop Finn country.  These nuns wear the habit, observe the Benedictine Rule, and -- best of all -- use the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and the 1962 Monastic Breviary.  This community is fairly new and therefore not yet huge, but it is full of young nuns, postulants and candidates: I'd be surprised if the oldest nun is much past middle age.

The fact is, women who feel a calling to the religious life want to be spouses of Christ, not glorified social workers.  They will go to the communities that offer them the former, and avoid the ones where all they get is the latter.

TH2 said...

If your Point No. 2 is a reference to the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, ID ("a place for Benedictine spirituality"), then the following link provides visual confirmation to your comment: http://www.stgertrudes.org/sisters.html

Oh dear, it seems the ladies also offer "Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy": http://www.cynthiaschultzbcst.com/Intro.html

Anita Moore said...

Guilty on both counts.  And the young are staying away in droves.  The last time I met a young Idahoan lady who aspired to the religious life, she was on her way to a congregation in another state.

It's really a pity, because of all the good works the Benedictines did in Idaho until recently, and because, by all accounts, St. Gertrude's is a beautiful monastery. 

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