Now Wait Just a Minute. If Chastity Applies to Nuns, It Also Applies to Priests.

Now Wait Just a Minute. If Chastity Applies to Nuns, It Also Applies to Priests. January 21, 2014

I haven’t written about this particular story because it seemed like just one of those things.

You know. People fail.

Christianity, as I live it, is largely a matter of falling down and getting back up to try again. That’s why we have confession. It’s why we need to be kind to one another about our various weaknesses. Because we are all sinners who are bound to fail. None of us gets out of that.

So, when I read the story about the nun in Italy who had a baby, I basically just thought that she needed mercy and probably some help with her baby. I did not see it as the worst — or even close to the worst — thing that I had heard that day, much less ever in my life.

Then, today I was reading through some headlines and I saw that a local Italian bishop has called for the nun to “leave her convent in the North of Italy after breaking her vow of chastity.” (Emphasis mine.)

My reaction to that was an immediate and heartfelt Wait a minute buddy.

I agree that now that the sister is also a mother, her first responsibility is to her child. I think she should rejoin secular life (not be cast out, but helped to do this) so that she can devote herself to full-time motherhood. I also think it would be nice if dear old dad stepped up and took responsibility for his child, too.

Just for the record, and even though nobody has asked me, I want to say that priests and men religious who father children should also rejoin the secular world and take up their responsibility to their child. That includes marrying the mothers of their children and forming a Christian family in a stable, Christian home.

So I was ok with the idea that Sister/Mama needs to leave religious life and take care of her new baby.

But … kick her out because she has broken her vow of chastity????

The day Bishops start sending priests and men religious back to private life for breaking their vows of chastity, we can talk about that.

Not before.

I’m not going to go off on a rant about priests and men religious here. That’s really not the point.

What I am saying is drop the self-righteous, hypocritical double standard.

Chastity isn’t just for women. Men are called to chastity and are just as culpable when they violate it as the other half of humanity.  So long as priests are forgiven for violating their chastity and allowed to return to ministry, that same standard should apply to the sisters.

That’s just the way it is.


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20 responses to “Now Wait Just a Minute. If Chastity Applies to Nuns, It Also Applies to Priests.”

  1. I read your post and the article you linked to, Rebecca. I agree with you that the woman should be given support during her transition so that she can take care of her baby, which should be her first priority. I also agree that her leaving the religious life for this reason is probably best and I agree that there should not be a double standard with regard to women religious and male religious or priests. I also think it is more complicated than just that.

    First, the bishop was not sending her home, according to the report you shared. He said it would be preferable for her to do so. Now, the reason he gave is because she broke her vow of chastity. There are numerous things to consider here and we don’t have all the information that the bishop has regarding her situation, nor is the bishop required to disclose all the information he may have, which could cause further scandal for the woman in question. There may be other reasons behind his judgment in this case than we are aware of.

    Second, one also has to consider the religious rule, which is particular to each religious congregation. Each order has different disciplinary measures specified in their rules. We also don’t know if this particular woman has had other behavioral issues or warnings regarding chastity or other important areas pertaining to the observance of her rule. One cannot simply apply the same rule to diocesan priests and members of religious congregations, because they don’t actually apply the same way, in virtue of the rule of each congregation, to which the members commit themselves on professing religious vows in a specific congregation, with specific rules pertaining to their vows and the dispensation from those vows.

    It is not always the case that a religious (male or female) is dispensed of their vows for breaking the vow of chastity (which is kind of a broad area which would also include viewing pornography, for instance), even in cases of sexual intercourse. And even in cases where a priest or male religious gets a woman pregnant, it may happen that the woman in question does not want to marry him or even want him present in their life. So we can’t just say, he should marry her, but Yes, I think it is a matter of moral law that he should support her, if he is responsible for getting her pregnant.

    The prudential decisions for disciplining or removing religious from a congregation are quite complicated. In this case, from what I read, the bishop did not go so far as to say that she should be removed from the order, but rather strongly suggested that she should leave. There is a difference!

    It sounds to me more like he is being public about what has probably already been discussed with the sister who violated her vows and her congregation, in order to help the woman to make the right decision in conscience. We also do not know much about the congregation she belongs to or if it can manage the burden incurred by her pregnancy without undue difficulty.

    In sum, there’s just not enough information about the situation for us to conclude that she is or isn’t being dealt with fairly, in my opinion, and when it comes to handling similar situations with equity, that’s a far more complicated issue when you consider numerous other factors and implications that most people are not aware of. I’m sure there will be more news as the situation develops and we ought to support her with our prayers as we also pray for her superiors to use good counsel while guiding her through this process.

  2. Not sure it’s really a double standard. I wouldn’t say she’s being “kicked out” for violating her vow, but because her responsibility is now to her child, and the convent isn’t the proper location to raise a child. I think this was just a poor choice of words by the bishop. Either that, or an imprecise translation.

  3. I would guess that you are right James; there is more to this story than we know. The bishop may have been misquoted. It has happened to me.

    I’m sensitive to the sexual double standard, which I think is cruel and unjust and has done a lot of harm, including being one of the main things that leads to the tragedy of abortion. I think that both men and women are called to lead chaste lives, and, while I may be wrong, (I hope that I am wrong) I honestly do not think that priests and nuns are held to the same standard in this regard.

  4. I have to agree with you, Rebecca. It would be wrong to deny that institutions often use different standards in dealing with men and women, and that certainly does not only apply to this type of situation. It should not happen that way, but it does. When it does, people need to be called out for it. But I can’t fault the bishop in this case if he is just trying to do what is best for the woman in question, her congregation, and the local church. As for how other cases are handled, that responsibility does not all fall on him, of course. Moreover, each particular case is different (as I mentioned earlier, the same things do not apply to a diocesan priest in the way they might apply to a religious, whether male or female, because the specified living of the vows are particular to the rule for each order, and that also goes for dismissal from an order and other disciplinary actions for breaking vows). This makes it hard to cast a judgment that would apply across the board for all men and all women, especially when we have to take into consideration that there are many things we just do not know.

  5. When I was eight – I am pretty sure of the date – I spent a summer holiday at a summer colony ran by nuns. I remember that one day I got a question fixed in my mind and I just would not leave the nun in charge of us alone, even though she insisted it was not something that was likely to happen anyway. In the end she muttered (and I, being eight, could not understand the look of distaste and irritation) that if that ever happened, it would probably be the monastery that would take charge of bringing up the child.

  6. I’ve been thinking this same thing Ken. Whatever the situation, the baby is a wonderful blessing.

  7. If the father of the nun’s child evades his responsibility, I think the sinful nun should stay as religious and let the child be brought up by the convent. I bet all the nun’s would smother that child with love. I agree the Bishop is not being being fair, as well as not generous of spirit. I don’t know Church laws but why should she leave religious life over one mistake, albeit a doozey.

  8. I agree, the child is a joy. But I would let the nun stay in religious life and still raise the child herself. If that’s Church law possible.

  9. I admire your charity re the bishop or the translation but don’t agree I have a horrible feeling he meant every word he said one rule for males another for the pesky females

  10. I find one detail missing: was the conjugal consensual? If the nun was raped, then she committed no sin.

  11. Chastity isn’t just for women. Men are called to chastity and are just as culpable when they violate it as the other half of humanity.

    I think you’re missing the point a little here. yes, all men and women are called to chastity—including married men and women—as the Catechism defines it. But that is somewhat different from the public vow of chastity taken by religious and most (but not all, I think) priests.

    Otherwise, yes, your complaint seems pretty spot on. The nun should not be compelled to leave her order because she broke her vow of chastity (though one might consider repeated violations of her vows grounds for leaving). The key issue here is that she should be encouraged to leave the order for the good of the child. From what I understand, this is standard procedure for priests as well, assuming they have not merely “fooled around” but have fathered a child: they are typically laicized and/or relieved of ministry for the purpose of helping care for the child. In theory.

  12. If she had decided to quietly give the baby up for adoption, it would be a different story – her remaining in the convent. There is something different in men/women in that we women can not hide the fact of pregnancy for too long. Also, I do believe that some priests want to leave once they have fathered a child but the process is long. Also, it would seem the nun was in a position to leave easier as it sounds she hadn’t taken her final vows. Would it have been different if she had taken final vows/harder? If I were going to compare it, it would be to a man fathering a child in the seminary and this woman.

  13. I totally agree with you that the Bishop’s reaction to the pregnancy and birth of the Sister’s baby was harsh and uncalled for. Has he done the same thing to the priests and men who have “broken their vows of chastity?

  14. Yes. How many priests were forced to resign and get real jobs so they could support the child they sired?

  15. According to this whacked out TV show I watched, it can happen under certain conditions like having an irregular cycle or being overweight. I think denial could have something to do with it. They keep hoping they are imagining the symptoms.

    I would like to think that there would be equal treatment between men and women (priests and nuns) in these situations but I’m betting it’s inconsistent just as it is in the secular world.

    I feel badly for this woman. Her situation is rough enough going from a nun to a single mother but to have it play out in public makes it worse. I’m praying for her and her child. I hope they both end up in a situation that makes them happy.

  16. After I asked that question, I remembered an incident from the far past. The mother of one of my sister’s friends didn’t know she was pregnant for several months as she was still having her periods. She was, however, gaining weight. Because of the weight gain she went to her doctor—and found out she was pregnant. She did go full term and had a healthy girl. So? It seems it does happen once in awhile. And I agree, having this played out in public is hard on the Sister and her baby. I hope help continues for her and the baby.