Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News
Catholic World News

Pope: troubled by ‘rigid’ religious orders that attract vocations

February 09, 2017

“The decline of religious life in the West worries me,” Pope Francis said in an exchange with superiors of men’s religious orders. Nevertheless the Pope said that he was troubled by “restorationist” orders that “offer security but instead give only rigidity.”

“When they tell me that there is a congregation that draws so many vocations, I must confess that I worry,” the Pope said.

The Holy Father went on to say that some religious orders are “Pelagians.” He said that “they want to go back to ascetism,” and devote themselves to defense of faith and morals. But then, he said, “some scandal emerges involving the founder.”

Pope Francis concluded his criticism of tradition-minded orders by observing: “The Holy Spirit is not triumphalist.”

The Pope made these remarks in a meeting with the superiors of male religious orders in November of last year. The transcript of the question-and-answer session was made public February 9.

“Being radical in prophecy. This is extremely important to me,” the Pope said.

Questioned about his choice of youth and vocational discernment theme for the next meeting of the Synod of Bishops, the Pope spoke about the need to avoid rigidity in the formation of new priests:

It is currently one of the biggest problems we have in priests’ training. In education we are used to dealing with black and white formulas, but not with the grey areas of life. And what matters is life, not formulas. We must grow in discernment. The logic of black and white can lead to abstract casuistry. Discernment, meanwhile, means moving forward through the grey of life according to the will of God. And the will of God is to be sought according to the true doctrine of the Gospel and not in the rigidity of an abstract doctrine.

The Pontiff also addressed the question of sexual abuse in religious life, saying that “it is clear that the devil is at work.” He quickly added, however: “But let’s be clear: this is a disease. If we are not convinced that this is a disease, we cannot solve the problem.”


For all current news, visit our News home page.

Further information:
Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: JDeFauw - Feb. 11, 2017 2:47 PM ET USA

    Pope Francis made these remarks in November. Is it any coincidence that his public comments about "rigidity" and "black and white" became more frequent during that month? The same month that the four Cardinals made their dubia public?

  • Posted by: Bernadette - Feb. 10, 2017 9:22 PM ET USA

    Religious orders like the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist and the Nashville Dominicans of St. Cecilia and the Sisters of Life and....Are those the thriving religious orders you are referring to as rigid, Holy Father?

  • Posted by: rickt26170 - Feb. 10, 2017 4:21 PM ET USA

    Let's see here. Sexual abuse is the devil's work? (Fair comment in my view.) But it is also a "disease." That would make it a kind of addiction that has no obvious physical cause that leaves it's victim helpless. This argument leads to the conclusion that sexual abusers have no free will. So are they sinning? And if abuse is a disease, is there a cure? In the 70s the Church showed a naive belief in the power of psychological therapy - thus hastening the abuse crisis.

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Feb. 10, 2017 4:00 PM ET USA

    It is undeniable that in the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church, there have been some pretty bad popes. I have now come to the conclusion that Pope Francis in one of them. "'When they tell me that there is a congregation that draws so many vocations, I must confess that I worry,' the Pope said." That pretty much sealed it for me.

  • Posted by: FredC - Feb. 10, 2017 3:37 PM ET USA

    What a dilemma: strict and growing vs. loose and dying.

  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Feb. 10, 2017 2:15 PM ET USA

    So his trivializing of concern for the mass muder of the unborn, in scale the greatest evil in human history, is really a case of "being radical in prophecy"?

  • Posted by: Jerome - Feb. 10, 2017 5:35 AM ET USA

    It is worrying to have a Pope who is capable of being broad minded and sympathetic towards those who openly oppose the teaching of the church but seems to only be capable of thinking in caricatures, and negative ones at that, about those who have a more traditional orientation.

  • Posted by: skall391825 - Feb. 10, 2017 2:17 AM ET USA

    “But let’s be clear: this [sexual abuse in religious life]is a disease. If we are not convinced that this is a disease, we cannot solve the problem.” Right, it's a disease magnified by too little rigidity.

  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Feb. 10, 2017 12:42 AM ET USA

    "The rigidity of an abstract doctrine." Like, for example, the Gospel?

  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Feb. 09, 2017 11:41 PM ET USA

    Can someone, anyone, explain to Pope Francis that Jesus Christ was quite "rigid" about moral absolutes? It is absurdly wrong to say Jesus called anyone a hypocrite for being bound to the laws of moral truth, laws that He never denied but in fact emphasized and expanded upon against prevailing moral weakness. Jesus condemned not only adultery, but lustful thoughts. What He also condemned is treating inauthentic cultural accretions as law and as equal to the moral law which comes only from God.

  • Posted by: Biscjim - Feb. 09, 2017 11:15 PM ET USA

    Maybe rather than accusing traditionalist orders of "rigidity", he should look at the heresy(yes, I used that word) and confusion being sown by of some of the more progressive orders, including his own. I have been very impressed by the "rigidity" of some of the traditionalist orders. Their rigidity" is in great contrast to the spirit of the world, which I think is very refreshing . Another question for the Pope might be; would he rater have "rigid" priests or no priests?

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 09, 2017 9:23 PM ET USA

    One example of a "grey," "non Pelagian," "non rigid" religious community, or one example of the opposite, would greatly help to understand what the Holy Father is saying. With so many communities, representing many different charisms, some of them must be closer to the ideal than others. But without specific examples, everybody will make of it whatever they want and quote Pope Francis while doing it, or, the Catholic people will simply dismiss what could be a valuable teaching.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Feb. 09, 2017 9:17 PM ET USA

    We could spend a lot of time second guessing this one so we'll take the easy road. Unfortunately, the easy road seems to illustrate some serious confusion in the Holy Father's outlook for how can he - or anyone - jump from the "devil is at work" to "this is a disease"? That's not clarity, or, rather, it's the usual Francis clarity. If that's an example of mashing black and white together to get grey, there will be a lot of hay coming.

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Feb. 09, 2017 8:20 PM ET USA

    Pope Francis always steps on some toes,but the comments

  • Posted by: bernie4871 - Feb. 09, 2017 7:20 PM ET USA

    Bizarre! Jerome's comment sums it up. "Good grief!"

  • Posted by: MatthewG - Feb. 09, 2017 7:10 PM ET USA

    Sounds to me like a critique of the Legion of Christ and communities that have had similar problems. I was in the Legion for 19 years, and believe me, the Pope's concern is well founded. I don't think it's a critique of all asceticism or love for tradition; rather, he is pointing to a rigidity and asceticism used to mask profound problems and give a false sense of security and clarity that does not prepare the community members to deal with real pastoral needs. The Legion has changed somewhat.

  • Posted by: danflaherty210701793 - Feb. 09, 2017 6:07 PM ET USA

    As one who attends the Tridentine Mass, I understand where the Holy Father is coming from. All too well. The problem is that criticisms of "rigidity" is used as code for undermining the Catechism of the Catholic Church and takes away the credibility of the critique. Clergy that empathize with what Pope Francis says here need to realize how much of their own problems they've created. Given a choice between a rigid priest and a dissenting one, I'll take the former and find a way to cope.

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Feb. 09, 2017 5:41 PM ET USA

    Abstract doctrine? How about an example Holy Father! Are the Commandments abstract, Jesus' teaching on marriage, mortal sin, sanctifying grace? Discernment has become the papal magic bullet to create grey or even worse to justify situation ethics where human consciences claim to be able to overrule God on the theory that He is abstract and grey! Again is this rigidity canard, constantly repeated, papal projection? Physician heal thyself!

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Feb. 09, 2017 4:33 PM ET USA

    Maybe the Holy Father is so personally secure that the Commandments don't have to set parameters for his behaviors, but no so I. I am a child in spirit, and I need to know where my Father has drawn the line. He has set it out of love, and I follow it in love.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Feb. 09, 2017 4:17 PM ET USA

    Complaining about asceticism? This is just a member of a religious order in decline, bitter and hostile to other religious orders that have made different choices and are often thriving. Dumping every type of ascetical practice was one of the striking things in the transformation of the Jesuits in the 50 and 60s. Latin America had some notorious cases of traditional-ish groups with scandals with their leaders, it is simply wrong to suggest that is universal among traditional groups.

  • Posted by: Jerome - Feb. 09, 2017 4:15 PM ET USA

    I usually have difficulty fitting in the 500 character limit. This times it's easy. Good. Freaking. Grief.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Feb. 09, 2017 3:48 PM ET USA

    "He who is not with me is against me." How's that for some black-and-white rigidity?