Implementing Humanae Vitae: Good Women Religious Are Leading The Way!

In my hometown, and right down the road from Bellarmine Forum president Charles Rice, the Franciscan Alliance, which operates 14 hospitals in Indiana and Illinois, is leading the way. As of July, the alliance began offering a natural family planning benefit to all employees– the result of a suggestion from the employees themselves!

Of interest: Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairman of Franciscan Alliance, recounts how she pulled the hospital chain out of the Catholic Health Association:

“We pulled out when Sister Carol Keehan [who supported Obamacare] came out and said she represented so many Catholic hospitals and was supported by them. We said, ‘Well, you didn’t ask us,’” Sister Jane Marie told the National Catholic Register.

Of further interest: the sisters are quite familiar with anti-Catholicism on the part of increasingly dictatorial governments. The alliance was founded and is supported by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, who were expelled from Germany in 1875, after Otto von Bismarck launched the anti-Catholic Kulturkampf, designed to rid the newly-united country of the influence of the Catholic Faith. The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration were sent to Indiana by their superiors.

Here permit me to mention another order expelled from Germany in the 1870s, the Sisters of Notre Dame, who settled in Ohio. My dear friend, the late Mother Mary Elise, S.N.D., was a founding leader of the Consortium Perfectae Caritatis. As I wrote in the Wanderer in May, I was blessed to meet her some forty years ago. She and several other women religious from orders across the country had just formed a wonderful organization called Consortium Perfectae Caritatis (In Perfect Charity), whose name recalls the first words of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Religious Life.

Every six months, the consortium would meet in a major American city to recommit themselves to the principles of their foundresses and their charters. At the height of the “women’s liberation” of the 1970s, hotel lobbies and conference rooms overflowed with nuns wearing beautiful habits of every possible variety and tradition. The conferences featured orthodox speakers, splendid liturgies, numerous study sessions, and other ingredients of a typical convention weekend, but there was also something else going on: many of these marvelous women came from convents and communities dominated by sisters who had, to put it plainly, gone off the deep end. Again and again, as I attended several of these meetings, I met sisters who had been told by their colleagues to “get off your knees and do something” because these good sisters had not taken up the political causes that had infested their communities. In a word, they were outcasts.

A great benefit of my attending those meetings was the outpouring of prayers and other spiritual favors which the good sisters offered for my work in foreign policy in later years. There was a practical dimension as well: during the height of the Communist efforts to take over Central and Latin America, a number of women religious dedicated themselves to lobbying the Congress in favor of one or another left-wing policy in the region. Curiously, nuns who had worn sweatsuits back home had gotten their habits out of storage to come and knock on doors on Capitol Hill. It didn’t take long for many senators on the Foreign Relations Committee to send all the nuns to me. Sen. Charles Percy, a Christian Scientist and chairman of the committee, was glad to allow me the pleasure of sitting down with his visitors from convents back home. The good sisters, however, were not always so pleased.

At every meeting, I would begin by asking the sisters about their foundress, as well as their special charisms. Usually, their orders had originally been devoted to teaching and nursing. They were always a little uncomfortable discussing all that, because, after all, they had come to discuss US policy in Central America. When we finally got around to that, I would tell them about my conversations with the bishops all over the region, whereupon one of their number would suddenly look at her watch and exclaim, “Oh dear, we have to go, we have another appointment.”

It was mildly amusing to see this outpouring of political activism, all done in the name of “the spirit of Vatican II.” It resonates with the reaction of feminist critics to the recent Vatican move. They hatefully blame “the Vatican’s War on Women,” or “the bishops who created the child sex abuse scandals,” or simply “Ratzinger.” They fail to note how the “spirit” – sometimes called “The Seventeenth Document of Vatican II” (there were only sixteen, you see) has drifted so far from the shore.

Perfectae Caritatis called for renewal, it is true, but “approbation of the Holy See or of the local Ordinary must be obtained where necessary according to law (No. 4).” As to the current situation, where so many of the wayward communities have received precious few novices and postulants in many years, “There may be communities and monasteries which the Holy See, after consulting the interested local Ordinaries, will judge not to possess reasonable hope for further development. These should be forbidden to receive novices in the future (No. 21.)”

The Decree also relies on Lumen Gentium’s Chapter VI regarding “Religious,” which states rather plainly that “It is the duty of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to regulate the practice of the evangelical counsels by law, since it is the duty of the same hierarchy to care for the People of God and to lead them to most fruitful pastures….. Furthermore, the hierarchy, following with docility the prompting of the Holy Spirit, accepts the rules presented by outstanding men and women and authentically approves these rules after further adjustments. It also aids by its vigilant and safeguarding authority those institutes variously established for the building up of Christ’s Body in order that these same institutes may grow and flourish according to the spirit of the founders…. The members of these institutes, in fulfilling their obligation to the Church due to their particular form of life, ought to show reverence and obedience to bishops according to the sacred canons. The bishops are owed this respect because of their pastoral authority in their own churches and because of the need of unity and harmony in the apostolate (No. 45).”

Alas, after all these years, the wayward “spirit” is at war with the real Vatican II as well as the Vatican. It is as unfortunate as it is unsurprising that none of the voluminous major media coverage of this welcome Vatican action has even taken note of the existence of the Decree, Perfectae Caritatis.


This article, Implementing Humanae Vitae: Good Women Religious Are Leading The Way! is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

Christopher Manion

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