New rules for contemplative women and the Francis revolution

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As a certified political junkie I have been caught up in all things political for the past several weeks. However, I did want to go back to a story that surfaced somewhat briefly on July 22. Pope Francis issued a new set of rules for contemplative women to follow.

I have been thinking a lot lately about whether the Francis revolution is over. It is true that we have just learned that Pope Francis has indeed implemented a commission to study the feasibility of ordaining female deacons. He even seems to have put together a fairly balanced group of men and women, including some women who could be considered progressive.

Yet, I must confess I am somewhat reluctant to be overly hopeful that something positive will come from the effort. After all, Francis began his discussion of this issue by essentially saying he did not believe history supported the ordination of women deacons.

So back to Francis’ set of rules for women contemplatives. This of course does not represent an earth shattering issue, and I need to be careful not to overstate its meaning. Additionally, I should make clear that I value the contemplative tradition within the church and consider it to be a valuable aspect of the rich tapestry of all that is contained within the 2000-year history of Christianity. Finally, I should also make clear that I am no expert on this subject and do not presume to make judgments on the contents of these new directives. I am willing to accept that the contents may contain precisely what is needed at this time to help revive the tradition.

Still, I do find a few aspects of what Francis has done curious, and, if not disturbing, at least confusing. First, it seems not to fit into the style we have come to expect from Francis. These regulations seem to come from nowhere. They were just issued from above and are to be implemented, seemingly without question. One might surmise that there is some connection to the investigation of women religious that was presumably completed, but the manner in which they have been issued was somewhat surprising to me.

Additionally, it is troubling that there was no dialogue involved in the preparation of these new rules. Specifically it appears that no women were consulted. Although a survey was taken there were no women at the table. A set of rules was simply imposed on contemplatives. I thought one aspect of the Francis revolution was that we no longer did business this way. We of course have to wait and see what direction the commission on female deacons takes, but I am somewhat dubious.

My final point would be the question as to why only female contemplatives are addressed. Do male contemplatives not need any guidance from the Vatican? Is it somehow necessary for the male hierarchy to make sure that women are conducting themselves appropriately? Are women simply incapable of thinking for themselves or governing their own activities without male supervision?

Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the congregation, made clear that no document for male orders is being contemplated.

These are just a few questions I have as I contemplate these new rules for contemplatives -- women contemplatives. I remain hopeful that Pope Francis will turn things around. I am just not as hopeful as I once was.




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