Liberal women's religious orders aren't worse off. Or are they?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 08, 2012

Claims that liberal women’s religious orders are dying out “are not based in fact,” according to an analysis by two women religious in America magazine. Yet the article cites statistics that actually buttress the conservative claim.

Sisters Mary Johnson and Patricia Wittberg observe that the women’s religious orders affiliated with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) reported 507 candidates, novices, and sisters in temporary vows, while the generally more conservative orders affiliated with the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) reported only a slightly larger number: 535.

However, the LCWR orders account for a much higher number of the women religious in the US today. Among the religious communities from which the statistics were drawn for the America analysis, the LCWR orders outnumbered the CMSWR orders by nearly 5 to 1. Yet the much smaller group reported the larger number of women religious in formation. Thus the statistics appear to confirm the claim that the authors set out to disprove.

The America authors also include this curious paragraph:

The median number of entrants to L.C.W.R. institutes is one, which means that half of the responding L.C.W.R. institutes had no more than one woman in initial formation in 2009. The corresponding median number of entrants for C.M.S.W.R. institutes is four, which means that half of C.M.S.W.R. institutes had four or fewer in initial formation in 2009.

The data do indeed show that some CMSWR communities are failing to attract many new candidates. Still, there are attracting four times as many candidates as the LCWR orders. So if some CMSWR orders are in trouble, some of the LCWR groups are probably beyond all help.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Saint Jimbob of the Apokalypse - Aug. 09, 2012 11:36 AM ET USA

    I did a comparison on priestly vocations 5 years ago, comparing the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. A Catholic man in Lincoln is 7 times more likely to enter the seminary than one in Los Angeles. It just goes to show that faithful witness to Catholic teaching will bring vocations of any stripe. Same thing with our religious sisters. We've got the Marian Sisters, School Sisters of Christ the King, Pink Sisters, Carmelites, and they all wear the habit.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 08, 2012 4:34 PM ET USA

    There's an important statistical breakdown missing there. Some orders belong to BOTH organizations. SO, what are the statistics for those orders, and are they the ones holding the overall CMSWR numbers down? Or bolstering the LCWR numbers?