I recently posted a statement by Bishop Parkes of the Diocese of Savannah in relation to the recent happenings at the Savannah Carmel, Our Lady of Confidence Monastery, where Carmelite nuns have faithfully prayed for the people of South Georgia since 1958.
The statement was issued soon after a website published an article where a volunteer gardener of the monastery as well as an unknown insider of the monastery were interviewed.
It is disheartening to see media which identifies as Catholic, publish articles that create scandal and confusion among the faithful. A quick read through the comment section of the article is enough to see incorrect assertions and unwarranted judgements from readers. There are no corrections, and those who bring clarity are quickly dismissed by other readers.
A little bit of knowledge about any matter can be more dangerous than being in total ignorance. A little bit of knowledge without the consideration of the the whole picture paints a skewed image of reality.
One of my readers asked, “Can you help break down Cor Orans ? I’m very confused as to what that is. What’s so bad about Carmelites?” My answer is not a “professional” response, but rather a response from a parish priest who has been closely involved in the events happening at the Savannah Carmel. Also, a priest who was present at a meeting five years go at the Savannah Carmel to discuss the implications and recommended improvements needed at the Savannah Carmel to meet the requirements of Cor Orans.
Cor Orans was published about five years ago after a series of gatherings of Carmelites (maybe even members of other contemplative orders) and the Pope. It put into place certain things to improve (in the long run) the life of cloistered women communities. Some say, why does it only affect Carmelite women? The answer I received from Father Rafal (next in command to the Superior General of the Order) was that there is no equivalent of cloistered Carmelite nuns among the men. He did point out that Carmelite provinces for men have been merged across the world, so provinces of priests can have healthier numbers and ministries. They too are shrinking and consolidating.
Since every Carmel is autonomous, Cor Orans made every Carmel join an association or federation of its choice. This association would assist Carmels to meet the requirements of Cor Orans. For example, there was a requirement of spiritual and academic formation of nuns, and if a convent could not provide it, it could send a nun to the main house of the association to provide it. Also, if a convent ran low in sisters, the association would be the way to assist a struggling convent. The association ensured that every Carmel was also run well – financially, canonically etc. Many nuns disliked it because they felt they lost their autonomy, which they did to a degree. Yet, the cloistered Carmelites are going through a decrease in vocations and an aging population that finds it difficult to keep things running. Cor Orans specifies that there must be six fully professed nuns for a Carmel to be healthy… this follows the small community model promoted by Saint Teresa of Avila. In Savannah, there have not been six solemnly professed nuns in years, and the sisters who made solemn profession in the past few years have all left the monastery (I was the Master of Ceremonies for the joyful occasion on three solemn professions several years ago – all the sisters are gone now, as well as almost all the novices who have entered since then).
I foresee something like this happening in the Catholic seminary system. We have some seminaries that have just a few seminarians and efforts are being duplicated in neighboring dioceses. There needs to be a consolidation of resources at a time when vocations are decreased, and resources are even fewer. There needs to be some pruning so that there can be better fruit.
Many scream “the property!” or “the money!” Rest assured, the property is owned by a civil corporation which owns it on behalf of the nuns. Those on the board of this civil corporation have been chosen by the nuns themselves. Wherever the nuns go, the money will follow them. The money does not go to the Pope, nor to the Bishop, nor into somebody’s pocket.
My intention in writing this post is to shed some clarity on the back and forth happening not only in Savannah, but in the wider Church about a number of Carmelite Monasteries closing. We pray for the Carmelites worldwide, from their leadership to the newest members of the community, that cooler heads may prevail, and that the Holy Spirit will bring to fulfillment what He has already begun.