The visitation was decreed in December by Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. His thought on the state of religious life was very forcefully explained in a September 27 keynote address at Stonehill College. Zenit has the full text. His analysis of the transformations in religious life over the past 40 years is quite relevant to the rest of the Church and worth study, excerpt:
"The numbers tell you everything one needs to know why they're undertaking an effort like this," said Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who called the church's interest "very late in the game."
"For many of these communities, the handwriting is on the wall. They're disappearing," he said.
Historically, Catholic sisters concentrated on teaching and health care. Since the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, many sisters have become activists of social causes ranging from protesting nuclear weapons to marching with migrant farmworkers. Some also advocate for women to be ordained as priests or challenge church teaching against abortion rights or gay marriage.
In recent years, newly formed traditional orders â whose members dress in habits, show fidelity to Rome and focus on education, health care and social work â have reported growth. More established orders that tend to take more progressive social stances have seen their members' ages and numbers of vocations dwindle.
"The Vatican may be asking the question, 'Why is this happening, and is there something these more traditional orders offer that the more progressive orders can learn from?'" said the Rev. Jim Martin, editor of the Jesuit magazine America.
Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church and concretely in religious life, been so difficult and the source of so much turmoil?” asked Pope Benedict in an important speech three years ago.
The answer he offers is deep and crystal-clear. “It all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or – as we would say today – on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application.” He continues, “The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and clashed. One caused confusion; the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and continues to bear fruit.
“On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call ‘a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the ‘hermeneutic of reform’, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us.”
1. The ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’ described.
In the Holy Father’s analysis, “The hermeneutic of discontinuity is based upon a false concept of the Church and hence of the Council, as if the former were from man alone and the latter a sort of Constituent Assembly. The call to change would be the true “spirit of the Council”, to such a degree that whatever in its documents reconfirms the past can be safely said to be the fruit of compromise and therefore to be legitimately forsaken in favor of the Council’s ‘spirit.’ This spirit that all is new and has to be made new gives rise to the fervid excitement of the explorer, the prospect of stepping courageously beyond the letter of the Council. But the call is so vague that one is immediately left anchorless, a victim of his every whim and rejecting all correction. It is idealistic in so far as it underestimates the frailty of human nature, and it is simplistic in thinking that a Yes to the modern era will solve all tensions and create harmony. Given these premises, and given also the best of intentions, what calming influence could there be on experimentation, and what principle was there to moderate the tendency to incorporate into religious life the fads and patterns of modern culture?
Read the whole thing.