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Pope strongly supports call for reform in religious life

May 08, 2013

Consecrated religious must maintain a spirit of deep loyalty to the Church, Pope Francis told a group of religious superiors on May 8.

Speaking to the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), the Pope stressed that “it isn’t possible that a consecrated woman or man might 'feel' themselves not to be with the Church.” He continued: “It is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Jesus but without the Church, of following Jesus outside of the Church, of loving Jesus without loving the Church.”

The Pope’s address was a clear sign of his support for efforts to ensure that religious orders live in communion with the universal Church. Last year the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) called for reforms in the American Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), citing speakers at LCWR conventions who had criticized the Church, including one speaker who said with approval that some women’s religious orders were “moving beyond the Church, even beyond Jesus.”

In an earlier address to the USIG meeting, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, the prefect of the Congregation for Religious, had lamented the CDF intervention in the work of the LCWR. Yesterday the Vatican press office issued a statement saying that the cardinal’s words had been misinterpreted, and that actually the Brazilian cardinal supported “the renewal of religious life, and particularly the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR and the program of reform it requires.”

Pope Francis, in his May 8 address to the USIG, also rejected the theory that religious obedience does not necessarily require deference to the hierarchy. He said: “Obedience is listening to God's will, in the interior motion of the Holy Spirit authenticated by the Church, accepting that obedience also passes through human mediations.”

The Pope went on to speak on the vows of poverty and chastity, and their true meaning. “Theoretical poverty doesn't do anything,” he said. “Poverty is learned by touching the flesh of the poor Christ in the humble, the poor, the sick, and in children.”

As for chastity, the Pope urged women religious to practice “a 'fertile' chastity, which generates spiritual children in the Church. The consecrated are mothers: they must be mothers and not 'spinsters'!”

The Pontiff said that Marian devotion is an essential characteristic of authentic religious life. He told the USIG audience: “You cannot understand Mary without her motherhood; you cannot understand the Church without her motherhood, and you are icons of Mary and of the Church.”

Pope Francis cautioned the religious superiors against ecclesiastical careerism, saying that some people seek advancement within the Church “as a springboard for their own personal interests and ambitions.” Such people, he said, “are doing great harm to the Church.”


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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: chady - May. 09, 2013 6:38 AM ET USA

    The historian Eamon Duffy makes the comment in his book 'Faith of our Fathers'"the treasure of the gospel is held in earthen vessels" In effect we are liable sometimes to get it wrong! Today's Office of readings from 2 John v 7 - 9 needs careful consideration by us all.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - May. 08, 2013 9:18 PM ET USA

    "Spinsters!" I can hear the cackling already! Pope Francis has nailed it. Thanks be to God.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - May. 08, 2013 5:17 PM ET USA

    Say it, Holy Father!