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(RNS) The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious comprises convents with a total of about 10,000 nuns, and you probably won't be reading about any Vatican investigation of their practices. By David Gibson.

21 Comments

  1. Thank you for the article and the photos are great. I’m thinking JOY might be the best ‘advertisement’ for more traditional forms of spirituality.

  2. Why does it have to be one versus the other? Both forms of religious life are extremely valid. What draws you to Christ. That is the path to follow. Beware of numbers–what’s the attrition rate????? Why is one better than the other? Why is wearing a habit better than not wearing one. Both are valid and server the Lord. Recognize that the majority of Catholics don’t believe half of what Rome and the hierarchy proclaim. And speaking about charism–members of the LCWR group believe they have gone back to the charisms of their founders. Here’s one–most founders never wore anything different than the poor women of their time. They did not wear a habit.

  3. Anthony Zarrella

    Bill – If LCWR nuns want to find “their own path to Christ,” they can certainly do so without adhering to the Magisterium of the Church… Protestants do so all the time, with varying degrees of success. But they can’t be Catholic and not follow the Pope’s authority. Saying that “the majority” of Catholics don’t believe Church teachings either is both an unsupported claim, and also irrelevant. “The majority” of people who listened to Jesus preach in the Gospels probably did not go on to become devout Christians under the tutelage and authority of Peter and the Apostles – that doesn’t mean that they, and not the truly faithful, represented “true” Christianity. If the majority of self-identified Catholics don’t follow the Church’s teachings, then the majority are either truly Protestant, or living in sin (I know, for my part, that I’m not perfect, and I *do* sin by violating Church teachings – but I repent, I don’t pretend that it’s not really sin at all).

    As for your comment about habits, you’re absolutely right that what we call habits often started out as (basically) peasant dresses. But when is the last time you saw a non-habit-wearing nun wearing “the clothes of poor women” as a genuine sign of humility (not just because t-shirts and jeans are more comfortable, or because the t-shirt has a political slogan). Most of the AP photos I see have them in blouses, and often suits. (Not to say that no non-cloistered nuns are humble servants of the Church – on the contrary, many are – just don’t argue that the lack of habit is a “back-to-basics” move)

  4. “In fact, the data show that the traditional orders of the CMSWR are drawing about the same number of vocations as those of the LCWR.” Is false. Please refrain from making false statements. If you don’t understand why it is false, read the comments to your link – it is straightforward. At this point, you made a math error, it was explained to you, and you are repeating it. This is now clearly dishonest. This is not good for you.

  5. mnemos: I’m not sure what math error I was making. Both groups have about 500 women in various stages of formation. The overall size of each group drawing them isn’t relative to that. Neither groups is at replacement level. The median age for LCWR is 75, and for CMSWR it’s about 65. If the trends continue (always a big “if”!) the two groups would have roughly equal numbers in a few decades. So they would be equal. Would that indicate anything about their relative vitality? No doubt the CMSWR communities are drawing vocations. Great for them. But the numbers are the numbers.

    Best, David

  6. David, if 80% of a group is drawing 50% of potential new members (each group has 500 in formation) they are attracting new members at a rate 1/3rd that of the 20% who are drawing 50% of new members.

    Just the simple numbers make it clear – some LCWR orders haven’t had a vocation in YEARS, while the CMSWR has anywhere from 2 to 20 and are having to build to make room.

    I know one group of CMSWR-group sisters who wear only a simple jumper as a habit, with little uniformity as to the rest of the outfit, so it isn’t the “glamour,” it’s the community life of shared prayer and work, the joyful connection to the Church through time, that makes them so successful.

    The leadership of so many LCWR groups (I know several Dominican and Franciscan groups) has gone over to the Odd Side (“beyond Christ” as one speaker famously put it), but their orders still contain many quiet, aging, faithful sisters who are no longer well represented and represent the last of their breed. Those sisters I feel sorry for; they wanted to keep their names in religion and their habits and were mocked; their desire to continue daily Office and Rosary diminished.

  7. Therese Z, actually none of the communities has very many sisters in process. The CMSWR numbers look better because of their relative size now, but the vocations are spread around among many communities. It’s just the facts as they stand now. This is not to pass judgment, good or bad, on either type of life.

  8. David Philippart

    Why is it any body else’s business than the nuns and sisters themselves (and there is a difference) what the nuns and sisters wear? Why, instead of simply being thankful for the work and witness of the sisters represented by the LCWR (or the CMSWR, too, for that matter), do a minority of cranky vocal Catholics feel the need to complain about their clothes? Their clothes? Really?! And where do men, especially, get off telling the nuns and sisters how to dress? Meanwhile, the hungry are still hungry, the poor (including some nuns and sisters, by the way) are still poor, and the world still needs to be lifted up in prayer. Let’s cut out the mean-spirited, self-righteous arguing about fashion and get to work. Anthony Zarella: I work with and know a lot of sisters, and each of them dresses modestly, appropriately and inexpensively. mnemos: You believe what you want to believe about the numbers. But David Gibson isn’t wrong just because you say so. The research done by two sisters and published recently in AMERICA magazine backs up David Gibson’s explanation of the numbers. Let’s revisit this conversation in about 10 years and see how many new recruits in the institutes of the CMSWR stay. I give thanks to God and have great respect for all women religious, regardless of what leadership organization they belong to, and without the slightest concern for what they wear. Instead of harping on the nuns and sisters, I want to join them in their goods of prayer, witness, and mission. I invite other Catholics and people of good will to do the same.

  9. People are arguing about the numbers of women entering various religious orders all over the web. If the number is equal, say 500 in both the LCWR and the CMSRW, then the number is equal. Both have the same number of new entrants. From the perspective of the Catholic women entering religious life, approximately half enter the LCRW communities and half enter the CMSRW communities. Looked at from their current membership, the CMSRW communities have far fewer members than the LCRW communities, so relative to their size, the CMSRW communities are attracting more members if the 500 in relation to their current membership numbers. But, that doesn’t mean that 500 does not equal 500. 500 new members will grow the smaller CMSRW communities, whereas it will shrink the LCWR. Like someone said above, the numbers in each group will grow closer together (and just think when the LCWR has as few members as the CMSRW communities, then people will be commenting how the LCWR communities are growing so fast when they have 500 members in formation!). What I think would be a more interesting statistic is how many women are leaving the Catholic Church altogether. I am sure this group is growing much faster than either the LCRW or CMSRW communities.

  10. Mr. R. L. Hails Sr. P. E.

    We err if we focus on secondary matters, garb, etc. If we do not focus on the essential. Imprecisely put, 100% of the CMSWR’s contribution, and perhaps 90% of LCWR’s contribution are good, holy, and in accord with church teaching and doctrine. This is better, and more precisely, stated elsewhere. The press, and world’s attention, however, is focused on the scandal, the 10% of the LCWR’s positions, which are in rebellion against the Vatican. The doctrinal conflict is damnably important.

    However, it is not new. Today’s gospel; the wedding feast in which the chosen people, then all, were invited by the Lord, who rejects one who did not obeying the rules, ie wear the proper attire, is still relevant. He is the Boss; He must be obeyed. It is essential, but not complicated, for religious or bishops.

  11. Why isn’t the Vatican and the nuns concentrating on getting Bill HR 374 passed in the House, and moved up for vote into law? This bill is the Life At Conception bill, and will legally define the fetus at conception as a person, which entitles them to legal protections under the law (and moreso as endangered lives, due to the practice of abortion). They should be working together instead of getting off-focus by division.

    This bill makes legal cases concerning fetuses worth alot more money; and with higher damages and vigorous prosecution (which always follows the money), abortion in this country will go way down. There’s only a 2% approval rate in the House, but Catholics writing in could change this, and could redirect the Christian laity, in general. But why isn’t anyone even talking about it? As if it’s a secret?

    It’s the biggest breakthrough concerning saving the lives of 1.6 million children per year, but everyone’s pretending it doesn’t even exist. I want you to know that God knows everyone’s ignoring this, and you guys are about to live out Isaiah 3, as His reaction to total Christian apathy (which will certainly answer the issue of attire). At the very least, He expects priests, nuns, ministers, and those who love Him to fight for the lives of His children! (Nothing less than an all-out fight for the lives of His children will protect you). Minor quibbles over contraception and financial charges, when you CAN save 1.6 million lives per year and fail to do your utmost to do so, will just make Him very angry. But believe me, you’ll see for yourselves very soon.

  12. Why is it you never hear of monks or friars wanting to discard the habit? To me, throwing away the habit is throwing away a great sign of faith, a silent testimony when in public.

    I’ve read many stories of people getting excited, even Jews and protestants, when they see a religious sister in her traditional habit.

  13. The habit is a sign and also a protection.
    It is important in relgious life, especially because it comes from tradition and has a venerable history. Only a modernist or iconoclast would want to do away with venerable Catholic traditions and customs.
    One thing this article doesn’t mention are all of the women entering traditionalist orders that are not yet in full ‘official’ union with Rome.
    There are quite a few in the USA and around the world and once the SSPX is regularized we will see an increase in the presence of traditionally habited nuns reemerge.

  14. I just wish the CMSWR nuns were less cloistered and out in public more. While all women including LCWR nuns are deserving of respect an honor, I would bow my head to an AUTHENTIC nun (wearing habit) walking down the street. The world needs to be exposed to that kind of faith and REAL dedication.

  15. Deacon Jim Stagg

    When comparing the LCWR to the CMSWR, it is difficult to arrive at “official” statistics. It is helpful, however to review a wide range of information that is available, even if one needs to spend $10 to obtain a full report on religious institute statistics from CARA.

    In the meantime, you might refer to Wikipedia, which has statistics on the CMSWR that vary from those in this article. I know many people consider Wikipedia unreliable, but they DO document their references. Click on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Major_Superiors_of_Women_Religious
    for numbers that vary from this article…..and paint a very positive future for the CMSWR.

    For a scholarly look at the LCWR flap, there is an unusually astute and even-minded article from the National Catholic Register (not to be confused with the other NCR):
    Click on: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/whats-going-on-with-the-lcwr/

    And, finally, for a look at an order which actually has more women in formation than that stated in this article, two year in a row, please click on: http://www.voanews.com/content/younger-catholic-women-get-into-the-habit-113267249/133408.html

    It’s sort of sad to see incomplete information bandied about the Internet.

  16. Real NUNS wear habits! The LCWR is a snapshot of what has gone wrong in America – relativism, attachment to things…instead of ministering to the poor and sick. More should look at Mother Teresa for guidance.

  17. David: comparing raw data is like comparing apples to oranges.

    When the FBI compared crime rates in US cities, they compare PER CAPITA rates, not raw statistics. You can’t compare the raw numbers of murders, rapes, and robberies in Chicago with those of, say, Wabash, Indiana. that’s ridiculous.

    Seems to me you’re carrying water for the LCWR ,if you don’t understand this basic principal of statistical analysis.

  18. RE numbers of vocations: the “new evangelization” communities, like the Sisters of Life, Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, were founded in the 90s and are very much formed by the thinking of John Paul II and by authentic traditions of religious life in community. In accordance with Church teaching, they are absolutely focused on their spousal relationship with Christ, from which flows their love and service of others, Also in fidelity to Church teaching, they wear the habit, and live pray recreate and work together. They are faithful to the Holy Father and the Bishops both in letter and in spirit. And these communities are getting from between 8 to 20 new postulants every year. Compare this to some communities that have not had any postulants for years and years.

    While it is true that some faithful communities do not get many postulants (notably, some of the totally contemplative nuns, who always had less because of the extremely radical nature of that life)…for the most part, the faithful communities have a much younger median age because they are actually getting new, young members. The median age of the two groups I mentioned is I think about 35, or maybe even 30.

    There is a wisdom in Church teaching on authentic religious life. It works.

    If you look at the communities of the leaders of the LCWR, they are heading towards extinction. And it is directly related to their infidelity, both in doctrine, and in disciplines/practices. It is very sad – I hope one day someone comes and restores their communities, because most of them were founded by saints, who would be weeping to see the current departures from the truths of the Faith and from solid practices of the consecrated life…if onecould weep in heaven.

  19. Anne Marie McCormack

    It is not just tne USA that have non habited religious. I live in Glasgow, Scotland and could not tell you the last time I saw a habited religious. I could pass a religious on the street and not even know it. As for poverty, these sisters certainly do not practice it. Many religious orders here wear secular clothing, expensive I may add, earings, necklaces and live in very comfortable surroundings. I don’t advocate sisters living in freezing convents or going without the basic necessities, but these orders seem to be rather financially well off. Perhaps they should remember that the majority of convents were founded by donations from poor hard working famillies who believed in the sisters and their work. Now its all radical feminism and political agitating, advocating abortion and gay marriage. Do what Anita Caspary and her deluded, brainwashed cohorts did, renounce their vows, leave the church and lead the secular lives tney seem to crave. Leave tne work to real religious, who adhere to their vows.