Let the (Dead) Nuns Bury Their Dead

Much ado is being made about the Church finally reforming the dissident nun communities in the U.S. But I say, let these spiritually dead orders bury themselves until there aren’t anymore of them left, which won’t be long now to wait.

This sounds terribly harsh because it is. Here’s the deal: 80% or so of nuns in America belong to these dying orders. Their average age is, like, 70. They are going the way of the dodo. They have focused for decades on social activism (often devoid of Christ), “living right relationship with Earth Community,” reiki, labyrinths, women’s ordination, and all manner of other falsehoods, warped priorities, and heresies. Yes, there are faithful nuns in these orders, ones who believe in Jesus Christ and are obedient to the Church, but the majority of their sisters are wonky.

I recall my first vocation discernment retreat that I went on. I was newly Catholic and thought God might be calling me to the priesthood. I was sitting down talking with a habit-less nun with some other young people on retreat, and she said something that struck me as odd. So I said, “but sister, only men can be priests…” And she gave me a condescending smile, as if that was the cutest, most naive thing she had ever heard someone say, and proceeded to inform me how things could be changing one day soon. I was too stunned to respond, and even though I knew she was wrong, I would have felt like I was being disrespectful to have challenged her on it in front of others. That was my first experience of “liberal” (read: heterodox) Catholics, and it was startling.

Since then of course I’ve learned a lot and nothing much surprises me. But this poor confused old nun was there on this retreat hoping that some women would join her order and continue the “good” fight for things that ran counter to Church teaching. How many young Catholics were led astray by these confused nuns over the decades?

That said, I do appreciate the dedication of their lives that these nuns have given. They got co-opted and subverted in their vocations, it is true, but they tried to live in a way that would increase justice on the earth. And some of the work they did was truly good in this regard.

But instead of dwelling on these poor nuns’ errors, I say let’s focus on the 20% of the nuns that are growing, that are dynamic and orthodox, that are the new growth on the tree of the Church. I need hardly list these new communities. Ones like the Dominicans, Mary Mother of the Eucharist and the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. They are relatively small but growing by leaps and bounds. It is exciting and beautiful. Young people are flocking to them. The other communities will pass away within a generation, but these new ones will be the small bits of leaven in the dough of the world, storming Heaven daily, lifting their voices to God in the liturgy of the Hours, teaching young Catholics the true faith and not heresies. These are the orders that are ushering in hope for the new springtime in the Church’s life.

I wish all the heterodox nuns well. I even give to the retired clergy/nuns collection, because of course they should be taken care of and hopefully will see at the end of their lives that the Church is guided by Christ and can be trusted and believed in. But I support the new communities, thriving because they’re orthodox, and I believe the Holy Spirit is working in them.



Devin is the author of If Protestantism Is True and he blogs at St. Joseph’s Vanguard.

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  • Akgrrlalways

    I had the same experience on my 1st retreat after coming back into the Church. The nuns talked about reiki and female ordination and I was dumbfounded! Our parish had 2 such nuns as administrators with a social justice focus for years and years. Without a resident priest to guide the parish, it began to dwindle in number.

  • The Church’s primary function is and should be the salvation of souls, not the pursuit of social justice. Few make this point more clearly than Servant of God, Fulton J. Sheen:”[When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert] our Lord was not denying that man must be fed, or that social justice must be preached, but He was asserting that these things are not first. He was, in effect, saying to Satan, “You tempt me to a religion which would relieve want; you want Me to be baker instead of a Savior; to be a social reformer, instead of a Redeemer. You are tempting Me away from My Cross, suggesting that I be a cheap leader of people, feeding their bellies instead of their souls…Be gone Satan! I am not just a social worker who has never been hungry Himself, but one who says “I reject any plan which promises to make men richer, without making them holier’.”

  • RZiccardi

    Cannot find this quote. Do you have a citation? Would like to read more.

  • Janet

    I had the same thought. According to http://savingourparish.blogspot.com/2011/03/bishop-sheen-on-christs-temptation.html, it comes from Bishop Sheens “Life of Christ.”

  • Janet is correct. The quote comes from “The Life of Christ”. I believe at page 71.

    You might also appreciate anoter Sheen quote from “Those Mysterious Priests”
    “He [Jesus] refused to lead any revolutionary movement even among a conquered people and His own people. At no time did He take a stand in the quarrel between Herod and Pilate, or against the numerous political scandals that were so rampant in Judea. He never raises his voice against crucifixions, which he knew well as a boy when 3000 were crucified in the town easily visible from Nazareth. He was indifferent to power, except to affirm that all power comes from God. “

  • Peter Nyikos

    My first experience with a “nun” of the sort described was in 1972 or 1973 when I was in discernment to whether I would like to become a CCD teacher.  One of our assignments was to write what we thought would make a good choice of topics for grades 1 through 4.  When I got to Grade 3 I wrote that I would include accounts of some miracles performed by Jesus [we didn’t use the traditional “Our Lord”].

    When I got my paper back, there was a marginal note advising against it because “It makes Jesus look like a magician.”

    My second experience was in 1974 or 1975, when I attended an evening discussion on feminist theology, and one of the “nuns” said she (and most of her acquaintances) thought of God more as a “force” than as a “person.”

    By the way, this use of the word “nuns” is inaccurate: becoming cloistered was probably the furthest thing from the minds of these two religious sisters, and also from the minds of most of the members of the “dying orders.”

  • Serramab

    THe faithful remnant will survive to rebuild and rededicate. Thank you and God bless

  • chaco

    Such Resilience !  Oh Happy sin of Adam ! (It has brought me to know the depth of my Savior’s Love). Spring cannot be as SWEET without enduring winter.  You GO Sister !

  • Lenore McKenzie

    Amen to your article.  I am so happy the vatican is finally doing something about these nuns.  I know several people who over the past 30 years have gone to their local priest and bishops about what is going on.  I have checked out every retreat house in our province in British Columbia and everyone of them offer new age courses.  Think of all the Catholic people who’s understanding of God and our faith has been distorted. Thank goodness now this might end.

  • This article is quite unfair on so many fronts…  If anything, it reflects more on the author’s animosity and triumphalism.

    Yes, many religious women communities strayed from orthodoxy, but implying that all of their members are as guilty as some of their leaders is more than unfair, but unjust.  Many religious women are actually akin to hostages of their leadership in being faithful to their vows of obedience.

    And, no, a handful of orders growing now means little.  In Church history many movements and orders went away as quickly as they came around.  Such young communities will be tested further and, God willing, their charism will be confirmed.

    But the charism of older orders are still leavening the Church and bringing hope to many more people around the world.  Or are the Missionaries of Charity to take a second fiddle to the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist?  Or how about those cloistered Discalced Carmelites or Poor Clare nuns? 

    And if I may offer a counter-example, I too met a panted sister.  My first reaction was of doubt and mistrust, but I couldn’t have been more wrong in my prejudice, for she was a very orthodox sister and would put all of the readers here to shame in her apostolic works.

    The LCWR is a tragedy and the Vatican, unlike many of the faithful, called for its reform, instead of throwing all of those even tenuously associated with them under the bus.

  • Anonymous

    The DSMME have their own issues, and those will come out. I discerned with them, I know. As do most ‘orthodox’ communities. Nuns leave, scandals arise, cultish practices develop. Even these communities are not perfect or the answer to all the Church’s or humanity’s problems. Believe that and you will be disappointed.

    In other views, certainly, the LCWR has issues that need to be addressed, but this article dismisses much too easily the works of mercy and sincere faith of many of the sisters in these communities (often just the leadership was wacky). It is unjust and unChristian to treat them with such contempt and condemnation instead of seeking dialogue. It’s easy to write self-righteous diatribe. It’s difficult, but much more honest, real, and important, to seek relationships, peace, and reconciliation among people you disagree with. I’m young, orthodox, and used to do as you do here. It was wrong.

  • The article is harsh but the truth does hurt.  I do think the orders that are not orthodox should be given a warm invitation to become loyal to the magisterium and the teachings of the Church.  I think many sisters/nuns want to be loyal and they should be sought out to join the orders that are thriving.  God bless the solid orders of the new evangelization filled with a different kind of vocation crisis in that having many young women joining them. 

  • Anonymous

    There was a time when Catholics learned that the spiritual works of mercy included instructing the ignorant and admonishing sinners. Now, apparently there are some Catholic nuns who are above being instructed or admonished, even by the Vatican. God bless those sisters who serve God and neighbor faithfully. I pray for the others that they might do a little soul searching of their own.

  • Cesarsmith75

    Our Holy See will not abandon these sisters, as Jesus would not.  Jesus came to save everyone.  It is up to us to accept Him on His terms not ours.  One does not make Jesus fit our life, we are called to become part of Him.  Jesus will never turn His back on us, we turn our backs on Him through sin.  Thank you Father for giving us yet another example of how to Love as Jesus does.

  • AnnaMarie 53

    This is not a “hurtful” editorial, it is, quite frankly, TRUTHFUL!  These beautiful, orthodox sisters are a continuing sign of Our Lord’s love of all, especially sinners (as are we all) .  They deserve the respect they receive, and I, for one, cannot say enough good things about these growing, faithful orders.
    My closest contact with true sisters came when my sons were going to St. Rose of Lima Academy here in Birmingham, Alabama.  Every day they were a shining, loving witness to Our Lord and His Blessed Mother’s love.  I could, and did, leave my sons in their care knowing they would receive the truth about God’s world, as well as His Word.  It was an experience that changed my life and my only regret is that I no longer have a reason to hang around them soaking up their prayerful joy. (I am a tad old to start over in elementary school).
    Kudos to all the folks who have written in with similar viewpoints.  May God have mercy on the wonky nuns and the people adversely affected by them over the past 40 years.
    Glory be to God!

  • Poppiexno

    Several years ago I was introduced to a young lady at a reception. She had on a sleeveless sundress – modest enough. The person introducing her said, as I thought, “This is my sister Jean.” What he actually said was, “This is Sister Jean.” I’m not advocating that nuns go back to medieval attire. After all, when medieval attire was new all the women dressed like that. I’m all for nuns to dress in a modern fashion; but it would be nice to know that you are speaking to a nun. Perhaps someone could prod my memory. Did not Pope John Paul II order, or at least request, that nuns wear a veil at mass if not always?
    I agree that too many nuns, in their zeal, have strayed from Catholic Orthodoxy. And I was pleased to note the author singling out the Dominican Sisters Mother of the Eucharist; it’s been my privilege to make a small donation to them for several years.     

  • Augustine,

    I give respect and due credit to the sisters who are orthodox in these largely heterodox communities, as well as even to the heterodox sisters who have done some good for others in their lives. 

    There are heterodox Domincan communities, and orthodox ones. There are heterodox new communities, and orthodox ones. All I’m saying is, the orthodox ones will survive and the heterodox ones will not. So sure, reform the LCWR, if that were possible, but don’t bet the bank on it. Instead, let the canker kill itself and focus on supporting the thriving communities.

    I’ve met orthodox sisters who didn’t wear habits. That’s fine. But usually a sign of fidelity, nowadays, is wearing the habit, since so many communities pushed it off after Vatican II.

    I do feel for faithful sisters in heterodox communities. That’s a tough thing. But even heterodox communities with a few faithful sisters could very well go down to almost none left, as a tree cut down to the ground, but then spring back up again with healthy growth as the remaining sisters show their orthodoxy.

    God bless,

  • Anonymous

    Pontifications are empty words to people starving, abused, homeless, alone… walk with people. Don’t just talk at them. If you want to save souls, be with them, truly, in compassion. They will see how you live as Jesus.

  • Pathogancsc

    Even we “unorthodox nuns””””””””””””””””’2 do good work for God.

  • matt Jones

    You’re a moron. Please go back to whatever faith community you came from. The Church doesn’t need you.

  • chaco

    “By their fruits you will know them.” Hate (“You’re a moron.”) is unequivocally dfferent than merciful praying/ hoping for your rival to experience God’s peace. Hope you’re feeling better soon.