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Rogue Sisters & Community Duty to Enforce Obedience


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This thread is a spin-off of another in the VS that we didn't want to hijack, on a topic that may be "too hot" for the VS. See the original thread here: http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/topic/141446-academic-orders-for-women/#comment-2763455

In that thread, I asked: What is the role of obedience in communities where some sisters are publicly defying Church teaching, and the community does nothing to stop them?

Of course, I am assuming the community does nothing to stop them. It may be such sisters are under fire from their own sisters for contradicting the Magisterium. And I know it seems odd to talk about obedience within a religious community when such sisters are not even obedient to the Church. But the community would seem to have more responsibility to enforce obedience, since they are "local", closer to the sisters.

Or no? I'm not sure. That's what this thread is for.

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I know examples of some of the sisters you refer to. And I agree that there are some egregious examples.  But in most cases--and I am not talking about sisters being, say, pro-choice so much as I am talking about other issues on which they might be taking action in areas in which their sisters might disagree (such as committing acts of civil disobedience, say, in the era of the Vietnam War), some communities came up with policies where they might support a sister acting on the basis of a decision of conscience (i.e., her right to act in such a way) without necessarily supporting the substance of the action she took.

The first example of that which I can document was among the Sisters of Loretto in the late 1960s (documented in Sr. Helen Sanders' history, "More than a Renewal"). But other communities have taken similar actions since. 

On a more fundamental level, the theology of obedience as it is understood by many communities, and by many theologians of religious life (most notably Sandra Schneiders, in her magisterial trilogy, Religious Life in a New Millennium, especially the volume "Finding the Treasure"), sees it more as obedience to God than to human hierarchies, either in the community or in the church.... Thus, obedience operates more in a dialogic and communal sense than in a "following the rules" sense....

I don't see any of this as relating to "rogue sisters," of course. I do know what you mean, but this is a much more widespread and less controversial understanding.

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I would just add that this issue isn't restricted to religious sisters, it's much wider. I think the negative focus often comes back to religious sisters for various reasons, but it's not unique.

In terms of obedience - it's mostly understood in the sense of dialogue and listening, not using regulations or power structures to enforce a particular viewpoint. That's not to say those aspects are absent and don't have a role. However, it's not the core focus or first line of action.

If a community attempted to censor, control or discourage every and any opinion or action it didn't like then I doubt it would be particularly healthy or stable. People will find outlets for their views and frustrations, always. People need to have the freedom to grow, express ideas and make mistakes. Some decisions won't have been correct or good but there's always an element of risk. Religious life is about taking lots of risks, sometimes things work out and sometimes they don't.

Obedience is not a one way street either as the community and or superiors need to listen to others, especially dissenting opinions! Prophetic voices are hardly ever well received :rolleyes: The Holy Spirit plays out as it wants and so it's good not to be too overbearing about what others are saying or doing. It does require an element of trust and openness too.

Many religious orders encourage members to educate themselves, develop opinions, engage academic discourse and develop tradition etc. The views they may reach may well be disconcerting in some cases but you can't engage a process and then hush people up if they reach a different conclusion on a matter at the end of it. It's the difference between indoctrination and education I suppose.

Do and should a community tolerate anything and everything? No. They all have a process, as does the wider church, of dealing with matters if it's relevant and necessary to do so. An example would be if a person was teaching in a seminary or something. It's fair they be told to get with it or be removed if they won't teach what's required etc.

However, if an enclosed monk or retired sister holds a contrary view on a certain matter then would it require the same action? No, obviously not.

The same can go, although it depends on the intention, if they publish books etc. Is the book seeking to teach a false view to a Catholic audience or is it an exploration of theology for a much wider audience?

How each community or congregation works out these issues will vary, and some of it relates to the charism of their founding. Was the founder persecuted or a feisty character? That may well frame their outlook etc. What is healthy in a convent to encourage (or stop) in one place may not work in a diffferent context and vice versa.

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With habits or not, the essential thing here is for the fidelity of each sisters on the Church's Magisterium in whatever for or approach they do their specific apostolate and charism.

The fidelity of their formators as well, imagine a formator who took her ideas from Barbara Marx Hubbard assisting the sisters in formation?

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