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is it possible that sometimes the superiors don't think they ARE doing anything wrong?  

Could they not realize that some of what is being done is in violation (or just skirting a violation) of those canons? 


This must be the case, I imagine. I suppose they think it's appropriate that a person in charge of a person's religious formation would also have a part to play in their spiritual formation, i.e. being their spiritual director. At the time, I never questioned it at all. We were appointed her as the person we would meet for regular spiritual direction, and since she was in charge of our formation and would give us spiritual advice in that regard, it "made sense" that we'd also discuss our spiritual lives with her. At times it was uncomfortable, but I figured that was just part of the sacrifice of obedience and religious life as a whole. I think part of the issue is that "manifestation of one's conscience" in canon law is likely referring to Confession, so it's a bit more open to interpretation for women religious in regard to spiritual direction, I suppose?

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Friar John Paul, this thread is about the experiences of people who have left monastic life.  I don't know whether you have had the experience of leaving a religious community but I don't think it is

Very interesting thread! I was a postulant and will share some experiences I’ve had, in hopes it will be of service. In advance, forgive me please if I am verbose.   I’ve been in three communiti

Dear Sr. Madeleine Marie:   I have read this thread carefully, and maybe I missed it.  If your community was specifically mentioned in this thread please hit the report button and we (mods) will cor

I think part of the issue is that "manifestation of one's conscience" in canon law is likely referring to Confession, so it's a bit more open to interpretation for women religious in regard to spiritual direction, I suppose?


I think just the way that canon law (from the previous page) is written, it's pretty clear that "manifestation of conscience" is not limited to and includes more than just confession:


§4. Superiors are not to hear the confessions of subjects unless the members request it on their own initiative.

§5. Members are to approach superiors with trust, to whom they can freely and on their own initiative open their minds. Superiors, however, are forbidden to induce the members in any way to make a manifestation of conscience to them.


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Notre Dame, I agree that is what it means.  And I think that is what the Canon Law Writers intended... but I also STRONGLY suspect that many women's religious superiors will insist that what they are doing is NOT the same thing.  It is just our way, they will say.   And they are right... because it is what has been done for decades.   It's what their superiors did... and the superiors before them.   Which doesn't make it OK, it makes it the way it always has been DONE.  


AND it means all too often the sister or brother who does NOT want to do this is seen as resisting the superior's guidance.  So they smile, and say all is well... and maybe it isn't. 


Or they have to try to muddle through without talking to anyone.  Or with talking to the one or two only priests they can talk to, on their knees, anonymously, in a confessional.  Again, not the best way to get direction.


Or they make a big fuss... and get 'noticed' by the superior and/or the council.... for not being docile.


It's a real dilemma.  And I don't know WHAT is to be done about it.


I suspect it tends to be more of an issue, for men and women, in communities that are more traditional in style because they are trying to do things the way they have always been done.  They WANT to keep the customs of their community or order.  OR their community is trying to establish themselves WITH those traditions.  


The most non-traditional communities by definition will junk this problem along with all that they see is 'old' and not in keeping with their vision of what religious life will be.


The middle-of-the-road communities will probably have less of this problem because they have gotten rid of or re-examined their customs and brought them into the 20th or 21st century.  The sisters do have similar freedoms and customs to those of their male counterparts.  One of the communities I discerned with was one of these... they still wear a habit for prayer and ministry and as often as the individual sister wants to wear it... but they can wear lay clothing around the house or if the duty at hand calls for it (climbing mountains or cleaning toilets).  They are free to have relationships with others on the outside.... they basically are formed in external stuff but not internal stuff.   They learn the customs & traditions and spirit of their institute, but they are NOT under the thumb of a superior in the same way as more traditional communities might be.


The sisters in very traditional communities - active, active-contemplative or contemplative - may run into more or less of these problems.... and it really is a bit of a tightrope, as noted above.  Because these ARE the communities for the most part that get the tons of vocations... and a whole lot of people leave them, too...  And I don't know what can be done, either....

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Before I respond to Lilllabettt I just wanted to thank everyone so far for their sharing in this thread.  This is a wonderful thread.  (I do apologize for not jumping in sooner ... I've been quite ill with some sort of bug :x that is going around in my area).


It is a good thread too -- because some of what is being discussed does happen ... and it is interesting too because if a candidate (someone in formation for lack of a better word, in any stage of formation) does not know what is allowable/not allowable (per canon law) or even what is healthy/unhealthy in a community, abuse can really happen.


I'll give an example -- in the 1st community I was in the sisters were quite clear and let me know, that if I had saved money in a retirement account, because I was not professing solemn vows of poverty I would not have to cash out the account upon first vows.  The requirement was that if I did make perpetual vows, at the time that money was available to me at retirement age I would have to turn that money over to the community.


Note that there are two types of vows -- solemn and simple vows.  Both can be perpetual, but solemn vows have more restrictions with respect to property ownership.


It was interesting that I knew this -- at the 2nd community an attempt was made to convince me to give money to the community.  Because I knew about canon law (although I didn't reveal it) I knew that in all conscience I did not have to cash that account in, especially since this community did not take solemn vows but took simple vows.


Im just realizing that my contributions to this thread are a little bit stupid because in my case I did not decide I needed to leave ... others did ...  I think the phrase I overheard them use was "she has got to go!"  :)  But it was a good decision even though I did not make it. It was not a good fit, even though I would never have admitted it.  


I think one of the major things was the mail ... read going out and coming in ... at one point a letter from my family was "held back" from me, because the contents were deemed too upsetting. And it was an upsetting, rather abusive letter. But I did not like my mail being held back. And then sometimes I would write something, it would get read and then be sent back to me unmailed; I needed to rewrite it because I made a spelling error. Or phrased something in an unsisterly way. My parents used to tell us this fairly tale over and over :  http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/salt.html#rushes    ... which if your read it, the clincher is "I love you like meat loves salt." That was a little ritual my brothers and sister and I had with our parents, we'd tell each other that. Well I wrote that at the end of a letter to my parents  and they made me take it out! Because it was unsisterly to make jokes about love, love being a very serious and sacred thing. I didn't protest, I did as told. But it made me sad.


Lilllabettt ... (and I say this with lots of love) ... don't you dare think that your contributions are a little bit stupid.  Sure, someone may have decided that you should leave but your experience is as important, and your contributions to the thread have been quite valuable.


BTW my situation in the 2nd community -- well -- kind of -- I'm not sure -- the same happened with me, but my whole experience was bizarre and could be converted into a made-for-tv-movie lol.  I wished I could say for sure that I was kicked out ... but that entire thing is a big question.


And you know I hate the whole mail thing as well ... I know for sure that there was at least one person (a religious sister) from here on Phatmass who wrote me, and the letter was never given to me.  I'm pretty sure that they decided not to.  Sure it's possible that it never arrived, but I never got a single letter.  Even calls home were the most difficult thing to arrainge.


So Lilllabettt ... feel free to continue chiming in :).

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If I may offer a comment from "the outside"?


I have a sneaking feeling that at least some of the apparent "double standard" [more leniency for men, increased strictness for women] comes from the fact that, in certain historical periods, and in certain places, [1] women were not regarded as being capable of disciplining themselves generally, not just in religious life, without male supervision and guardianship, and [2] there were instances of cloistered women either indulging in what amounted to mass hysteria or else turning the convent into something resembling a brothel.  This seems to have been particularly true when large numbers of women [or girls, usually] were literally dumped in convents without even the pretense of having a vocation, but to save families the expense of dowries, etc.


To an extent, the sequestration of women exists today in other frameworks, such as the traditional Islamic way, which perceives women as persons who need to be guarded against their own irresponsible and dangerous natures.  And, it's men who make the rules.  Both tradition and brute force, at times, reinforce those rules.


Just my 2 cents.  I agree that this is a most interesting thread.

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Well, I don't want to bother you too much with law, but since the topic came up (and many usually get confused by it) I think some background information could be useful. The question of perpetual vs. solemn vows is a tricky one and I'm not sure if I got everything right. But I'll try to expain what I understood.


The old canon law of 1917 made a clear juridical distinction between perpetual and solemn vows. (I only found the latin text)


Can 579. Simplex professio, temporaria sit vel perpetua, actus votis contrarios reddit illicitos, sed non invalidos, nisi aliud expresse cautum fuerit; professio autem sollemnis, si sint irritabiles, etiam invalidos.


In the new canon law of 1983 however, this canon was dropped. You don't find this distinction anymore. They decided to use only the term perpetual profession and mention that it is in the nature of some institutes to renounce fully his or her goods before perpetual profession.


Can. 668 §1. Before first profession, members are to cede the administration of their goods to whomever they prefer and, unless the constitutions state otherwise, are to make disposition freely for their use and revenue. Moreover, at least before perpetual profession, they are to make a will which is to be valid also in civil law.

§4. A person who must renounce fully his or her goods due to the nature of the institute is to make that renunciation before perpetual profession in a form valid, as far as possible, even in civil law; it is to take effect from the day of profession. A perpetually professed religious who wishes to renounce his or her goods either partially or totally according to the norm of proper law and with the permission of the supreme moderator is to do the same.

§5. A professed religious who has renounced his or her goods fully due to the nature of the institute loses the capacity of acquiring and possessing and therefore invalidly places acts contrary to the vow of poverty. Moreover, whatever accrues to the professed after renunciation belongs to the institute according to the norm of proper law.



Anyhow, you're never obliged to give your money to the community at the point of the temporary vows. You must cede the administration since you should be free of all concerns regarding your goods, but you remain the owner until perpetual vows. Then it depends on what kind of institution you're in.


As you see canon law isn't always too easy to understand. You can easily spend a whole semester with lectures only on the canons regarding religious life. I think that this is a reason why some superiors (female - since male superiors are priests and have studied at least a bit of canon law) don't know when they act against the law. In nowadays we are used to have full access to all kind of information. My master of novices told me once how strange it is for her that I know all the rules and canons - being a novice. When she was in formation it was forbidden to even read the constituions of the house. Something we would regard as scandalous today. They were afraid that if a novice knew she was free to go at any time, she might do that.

I guess there are enough female superiors out there, that were formed in that way and they haven't read (or if so they haven't understood) the canon law. In my opinion it's not their fault. The problem is their formation.

In my order only 3 years ago the first course for new superiors took place. They had lectures on different topics - regarding financial, psychological and juridical aspects of their office. Definitely a very good and useful idea. So I hope things are changing to a better.

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I guess there are enough female superiors out there, that were formed in that way and they haven't read (or if so they haven't understood) the canon law. In my opinion it's not their fault. The problem is their formation.

In my order only 3 years ago the first course for new superiors took place. They had lectures on different topics - regarding financial, psychological and juridical aspects of their office. Definitely a very good and useful idea. So I hope things are changing to a better.


This is something I have often wished for my former community. Despite my negative experiences, there were also many, many positive ones, and I really do love the Sisters and wish them the best. They do a lot of wonderful, needed work in the Church today, and I would truly hate to see that fall apart because of unhealthy problems within the community that were not allowed to be addressed. I know the best thing for them is prayer, and I pray for them everyday, but I wish there was a way that I--or someone else, because these problems and "red flags" have often been mentioned and observed by outsiders, including priests--could express in a loving, constructive manner the things that I experienced that I feel should be addressed. I know it's not really my place, and I really do feel like they would be offended if anyone mentioned anything, but I know some of the Sisters saw the problems I did and would like them to be addressed. It's probably something they'll have to work out on their own, but, I don't know, I wish I could use my experiences to help them somehow, because I really do want things to change for the better, and I don't believe all is lost.

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Maggie!!! Really great, thoughtful post. 


I'd propose (meaning that I'm throwing it out there for discussion rather than putting a stake in the ground) that we need to make a distinction in the types of cases one will run across depending on whether or not the order respects the freedom of conscience of it's candidates.  Let me explain.


Case #1: If an order is honest when asked about it's practices.  If it has a reasonable admissions/discernment process before physcially entering.  If it does give candidates resources and freedom to discern and respects a candidates discernment.  If it does not push too early for any strong commitment (ie. donations of money.)  Then even if there are some issues present, the candidates aren't really being manipulated and are free to discern God's will regarding whether to stay or go. 


Case #2:  If an order is not honest or upfront about itself or it's practices (ie. it withholds mail, reads email, but doesn't tell you they do that, either before you get there and even maintaining the lie while there.)  If it lets people enter with no admissions or period of discernment.  If it does not respect one's freedom to discern (everything from restricting SD's to telling candidates doubts are from the devil.)  If it pushes for money early in order to get a person commited.  In things like this are happening, the candidates are being manipulated and I would not say they are truly free to discern God's will.


So I would propose that how a candidate responds to issues in a congregation should be based on whether or not candidates are truly free to discern. 


In case #2, I wouldn't consider staying at all and, depending on the severity, I'd contact Church authorities because people are being put at risk.  (Though I wouldn't expect our weak-knee'd bishops to do much.  Heck, the Legion is still ordaining candidates and recruiting as we speak. But it needs to be done and good bishops will act, eg. Intercessors of the Lamb.)


In case #1, I could write off many imperfections because candidates are free to discern their vocation.  But what to do if you leave or, more complex, what to do if you stay?  That would involve a lot of prayer and getting a lot of advice.  If people aren't at risk, then there isn't urgency and more discretion is required.


... Shifting gears... Obedience is an interesting subject I've done some research on and would like to write about.   There are MANY misunderstandings on the subject (like how the term "blind obedience" actually means "blind to the office", not "blind to the command") and how the extreme of obedience and submission of the intellect is more akin to giving a command the benefit of the doubt.  Anyway, an interesting post on the subject here:






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Maggie, I don't know what's official protocol on telling formation staff that you think their program stinks, but I've done it.


I remember one weekend where one of my closest friends was having a bit of a breakdown because of his finals. The priest for our formation group told him to take the weekend off and sent him home. While he was away, the priest had the rest of us guys pack his things for him, and when he returned he was told he was being let go.


Once my friend was gone I looked my RA and that priest in the eye and cussed them out for a good 10 minutes. Nobody else said a word.


I do not suggest you attempt this method of giving feedback. :hehe:

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That ^^^^^^ is a horrible way of doing things. I can hardly believe the cruelty involved in sending someone away in such a fashion.

It makes me ashamed to be a Catholic.


And that was not even the worst of the stories I could tell...

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Anyhow, you're never obliged to give your money to the community at the point of the temporary vows. You must cede the administration since you should be free of all concerns regarding your goods, but you remain the owner until perpetual vows. Then it depends on what kind of institution you're in.



That is spot on ... I was struggling with the right set of words (I am by no means a canon law expert!)  But -- the point remains, if I hadn't known the bit of knowledge that I did, the community would have convinced me to cash out my retirement.  I'm glad I didn't.


I also agree (sorry I didn't quote it) that those in formation and leadership *should* have a good understanding of canon law.  I think part of the problem is not understanding what is healthy and allowable.  Even in those communities that can be seen as having problems, the fault may not lie in those currently in leadership (it could potentially be traced to the founder, but if the founder doesn't know what he/she is doing, then even he/she can be innocent ... although witholding knowledge can be used in a negative way).

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