Nuns and Social Media

After another sleepless night, I can report a little black humour to mark my emergence from under the chemo cosh. Cor Orans, the document which establishes the norms for implementing the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere, assures us, with dreadful earnestness, that nuns may now use Social Media ‘with sobriety and discretion.’ Of course I agree with the need for discretion, but having been using Social Media for about ten years — probably longer than many of the clergy and others who felt it necessary to give nuns guidance on the matter — my main reaction is a mixture of despair and irritation. Despair, because yet again the Vatican shows itself to be out of touch with the reality of women’s (i.e. not just nuns’) lives, and in seeking to control is in danger of losing whatever moral authority it still commands; irritation, because with all the world’s problems, to devote time and energy to  something that I think most nuns have already thought and prayed about sufficiently to have arrived at a sensible decision regarding its appropriate use, is embarrassing.

It hurts to say I am embarrassed by the Church to which I belong and her heavy-handed approach to facets of modern life that she should be embracing, not condemning or viewing with suspicion. It seems to be only a few years ago that we nuns laughed about being given permission to use fax machines, with due discretion and limitations, naturally, and were tempted to email our response, only the Vatican wasn’t using email at the time!

I do have a serious point to make, and it isn’t a grumble. The text of Cor Orans raises many concerns for us as a small contemplative community*, but I think it raises even bigger ones for women in the Church as a whole. I have never been entirely convinced that there are two differing forms of spirituality, one masculine and the other feminine, with the masculine needing comparatively few rules and the feminine needing very close regulation. If Pope Francis is serious about using the gifts of all the Church’s members, then I genuinely believe that he and all the other senior clergy must take seriously the fact that women are not second-class beings. We can be as intelligent, well-educated, fervent and disciplined as any man. To presume that we are somehow lacking in any of those qualities is deeply insulting. True, some women have not had the educational opportunities given to men; true, there are still parts of the world where cultural constraints mean that women are condemned to secondary roles; but, if we have heeded the gospels of Easter Week, how can we assert that this is divinely ordained?

I became a nun in response to what I believe to be my vocation. I have never wavered in my desire to live that vocation as whole-heartedly and generously as possible but I am dismayed to discover that there is doubt whether I and other nuns can really be trusted with it, online or off. And what is true of nuns in that respect is, I fear, true of all women — though, happily, women who are not nuns may apparently use Social Media without the limitation of ‘sobriety and discretion’. I’m tempted to say, ‘Go for it!’

* See, for example, the concluding paragraphs of Cor Orans, Final Dispositions.


60 thoughts on “Nuns and Social Media”

  1. I was quite shocked to read the BBC’s report about this. I am taken aback to discover that the Church’s hierarchy still seem to have the view that women cannot be trusted to think for themselves and take responsibility for their actions. Especially as this runs side by side with nuns all over the world who are expected to run hospitals and schools and put their lives and liberty on the line to stand up for the oppressed and the downtrodden. (I hope you don’t mind this comment from a non Catholic but I regard this page as a safe space to comment on things like this. My apologies to anyone who thinks I am out of order).

      • Having read more since reading your post this morning the whole thing seems simply outrageous. Top down patriarchal control freakery at its worst. To what end one wonders? In our Easter season, may Mary Magdalen, the first evangelist to the apostles, intercede for common sense to prevail and protect our sisters in monasteries around the world.

        • When a community is faced with either closure (suppression) or being forced under the control of a Federation/Congregation with which it has no affinity purely because it doesn’t have eight professed nuns which the authors of the document regard as being essential to gurarantee autonomy, one does rather wonder, doesn’t one? Prayer is essential but you will have noted that all this is to be done and dusted within twelve months. The Vatican rarely acts so fast.

          • Small communities of nuns should not be threatened with suppression. They should be encouraged to continue to evangelize and guide their readers, using all the modern methods of communication at their disposal, and to continue to nurture the faithful who are connected to their communities in prayer via the power of blogs such as yours. Desperate times! God bless you all.

          • I think the small communities faced with closure are those where the membership is quite old. For example, in Europe thereare numerous monasteries where everyone in the community is over the age of 80. Many are also in dire financial straits. Newer, younger groups receive encouragement. I have to admit to being quite dismayed by some of the negativity to Cor Orans since it was put together from the responses of almost forty thousand contemplative nuns around the world and is a direct bn2 response to the many problems facing monastic life today.

          • I hope that means that your community is not much affected by Cor Orans or is happy with the impending changes? I should be very glad if that were so. We face possible closure, and we are not old, nor are we in dire financial straits. We were never sent any questionnaire by CICLSAL and only found out about the publication of the document by using the internet. It would have been good to have been consulted, even if the results were the same. More important, I’d say, is the one-size-fits-all approach of the document which is difficult to square with the Benedictine tradition, the retrospective nature of the legislation (which has done away with the status conferred on us by Rome when we were founded) and the confusion it has created for some candidates for admission. Being fairly familiar with the sitaution in southern Europe, I’m disappointed that CICLSAL didn’t tackle the situation there rather than applying one solution to the Universal Church. We have always taken great pains to try to be ‘right with Rome’, so to say, but this faces us, and some other small communities, with very real, personal as well as institiutional difficulties. Please pray for us all, if you will. Thank you.

  2. I have begun to wonder how much the Pope really knows about these matters.It appears that what he verbalizes in the media is not being instituted in the states.I feel as if he is somewhat being undermined by some of his subordinates.Things here make me question the intentions of the church just in my hometown.The people are are taking a backseat as they seem to be so focused on money.They are merging churches because of falling revenue but make no effort to be one with the community, It is very sad.I would really like to know who really calls the shots so to speak.

  3. Same old, same old….male dominance is here to stay, sadly.
    The Vatican as both state and Church is constantly defending its male dominance. I believe scripture, in particular the new Testament, proves that God treats us all as equals.Christ is the example.

    • If only all were as wise as you! Those final paragraphs about forcing communities into Congregations/Federations at the end of twelve months from publication of the document strike a chill into many hearts.

    • Jesus loved and respected the women in his life. They had a special place in his heart. Especially Mary his Mother and yes Mary Magdelene who were with him to the end of his life. So many faithful women in the Church who pray for it each day and their families, priests and communities, May is dedicated to The Blessed Virgin Mary, let us ask for her intercession, and Saint Mary Magdalene and all the great Saints who were women, including those mentioned in the Mass. This is so important to the Church that we continue to pray, God’s will be done.

  4. One laughs with you but desperately despairs with you at the same time. I know that many women get really upset with the church, as my late mother did over conception and birth control, and other have left the church too. But this is yet another symptom of clericalism which, I’m afraid, demeans anyone who is not a male clergyman, with the laity and all non-clerical and especially female religious being required to put up and shut up whilst they cover up abuse, financial irregularities and ignore the shortage of clergy, the needs of the local churches and the talents of all who are not in their clerical elite. They continue to fight their corners – the ones who would far rather we still lived in the middle ages and were still subservient and those, like Pope Francis, who would take us forward beyond the Second Vatican Council to a church who is more accepting of us dirty sheep who would like to be asked for our opinions, listened to, and treated like responsible adults instead of as naughty children who must be beaten into submission until they keep quiet and obey.

    I’m sorry, but this has turned into a bit of a rant, but I’m sharing a bit of your frustration, albeit as a mere male who doesn’t particularly like what is happening to our church.

  5. Any indication who actually wrote it?! I have missed out on the document, but sounds like it would have benefitted from more consultations with practitioners! Why would nuns need more sobriety & discretion than monks, I wonder?!

    • That’s only a minor point in the document, but it’s the only one on which I can trust myself to write at the moment. It comes from the Dicastery (CICLSAL). We were not consulted and only learned by accident that the document had been published. It’s a pity English doesn’t allow for the monje/monja equivalence of Spanish, which would point up the absurdity (as I see it) of some of its provisions.

  6. Dear D. Catherine,
    First, I must tell you how delighted I was that you had blogged again, I thought you must be having a rough time.
    Now to the male/female matter. I think it is wonderful that nuns can get maddened by the attitude of men towards women! I seethe frequently, and don’t label myself feminist. In a neighbouring parish there is a new PP, in his early 50s I think, from Poland. At a meeting of the PAC he asked for volunteers to provide a document which involved a great deal of research and balance sheets, and the headmistress of the local Mary Ward school offered. It occupied her for many hours, which she is anyway short of. When she produced the report eventually, the PP said he had decided what to do anyway and had already set everything in motion. All her work gone out of the window. With one blow he had destroyed masses of goodwill towards himself and slammed the brakes on any move towards lay participation, male or female.
    Eventually women will cease bothering with the church per se and, like water facing a blockage, find another way round. We must hope, and not forget that a hefty dollop of defiance is part of hope!

    • That is a sad story but, alas, one that I daresay many could duplicate. I would hate, however, for my concerns about what Cor Orans means for us as nuns to end up as clergy-bashing. There are many good, encouraging and admirable priests, thank God!

      • Indeed there are. Unfortunately many of the best of these have upped sticks and use their talents in other fields now. Your blog is of immense value and benefit to me. I listen with straining concentration to the homily on Sundays but am often hard put to recall it next day. God bless you!

  7. Sister, I’m so heartened by reading this. I’m 72, a child of V II and have been waiting and hoping for over 50 years for a change in the patriarchal attitudes of the church. When I heard this report on broadcast media I despaired that change would ever come.

    My adult children, while retaining their belief in the gospels and living good Christian lives have given up on the church precisely because of these attitudes. I’m still here because, to be very honest, I was born into it and have given so much to the church in terms of parish and wider commitments, I’m not going anywhere else. But if I was in my 20s….

    It’s reading your blog that keeps me on track and reminds me of all the brilliant women who give witness to those of us who wobble.

    • Thank you. I think the media broadcasts, e.g. the one I heard overnight on the BBC World Service, have side-stepped the important questions, which have to do with monastic autonomy, but I think my general argument remains valid. The Church doesn’t make a very good fist at recognizing that women are graced members of the Church, with brains as well as other qualities.

  8. The passages you cite from the document are hilarious. I had been a Computer Science major for several years before I entered my community and to think that women’s religious community would waste one thought to what the Vatican is saying about their use of modern communications seems ridiculous. We are here to serve the people who need us and if it means posting silly things to make our young people laugh, I’ll do that without hesitation. It never occured to me that the Pope would have something to say about how I as a nun do my work. *lol*

  9. Am with you heart and soul on the weary exasperation with women receiving this official warning when the use of pornography on the internet by monks and clergy is well documented and seems to me to be a far more urgent and serious matter.
    HOWEVER (deep breath here), I have done a great deal of work with sisters across the world, and there is a genuine issue reported repeatedly by sisters themselves regarding a use of the media among them that they perceive as undermining community and the essence of their life. This is religious women reflecting on themselves & their life, & so some of the reports, at least, may have come from this source and stand as a legitimate critique. It isn’t entirely clear to me (or to them) how best to deal with this, but it would be dishonest of me not to flag this up amid the quite understandable dismay at yet another piece of obtuse communication.

    • I quite agree with you about the importance of prayer and discernment in the use of Social Media. I was chosen to be the community’s ‘voice’ in that respect, and we’ve been very aware all along of the limitations that must exist andof the need for community involvement. If other communities feel they need external guidance and regulation, so be it: I question, though, whether, every community should be treated in the same way. The same goes for the much more serious, but less interesting to the media, question of the loss of autonomy faced by small communities of women.

  10. My take is that Cor Orans was written for those who are more comfortable with guidelines clearly set out … and I suspect there is no lack of respect or appreciation for who have discerned their path in regards social media … and even if I am not right in this, I can say I am deeply grateful for what you are doing, and find your offerings nourishing and thought-provoking. You are a BLESSING!

    • Thank you! The references to Social Media are only incidental and I wrote about them simply because (a) it is what the media have picked up on and (b) what small communities face as a result of the document’s other provisions are too painful to dwell on as yet.

  11. Mansplaining. The Catholic version. It’s very annoying, but keep on keeping on. Those of us with husbands or male family members or male coworkers are right there with you. It’s mind boggling at times that anything in my job is “explained” to me after almost 40 years, “but I’m just a nurse.” Some days I try to see if I can say that entire phrase without laughing.

  12. Dear Dsame Catherine,

    I admire your self-discipline in just allowing yourself to comment on the “social media” bit. I probably cannot imagine by half how difficult this must be for you.

    One does not have to be a feminist (and I am not) to be shocked about Cor Orans. It simply ignores that the Gospels do not make any reference to a difference in male and female spiritality. The document is a very worldly (and iy I may say so unholy, because it is so full of distrust) example of old men being afraid of women organising themselves.

    Besides, the provision on the size of a community flies is in contradiction to the principle of subsidiarity, which I thought was so cherished by our Church… At an age when religious communties and the Church herself undergo profound changes, it is important to keep, and protect, small and de-centralised communities, since it is often in these small, seldom wealthy, and due to their size less “protected” communities that the Holy Spirit shows ways to adjust to the times (but not always the Zeitgeist). The Church needs you more than ever.

    You and your work are in my prayers.

  13. I feel that you have articulated so many points that I have been turning over in my mind for some time. Thank you for your excellent blog (as well as the many that I have enjoyed over the years). I agree with everything you say and am also heartened to read the comments and see so many others agreeing.

    I have recently started following the social media posts of the Voices of Faith group who are campaigning for women’s voices within the church. I have been RC my whole life but am really beginning to wonder if I can, in all conscience, continue to be so if I disagree so wholeheartedly with the church’s attitude to me.

    • Thank you. We’re praying for you, and for all who find themselves in a similar situation with regard to the Church. I know several women who have become Orthodox or Anglican, but I suspect that the ‘problems’ follow one to whichever denomination one joins because the attitudes from which they spring are so widespread. May the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, guide us all.

      • What a horrible waste of evangelical effectiveness it would be if you are squashed under the thumb of ecclesial and federational control. They know not what they do.

  14. I read a few lines of the document and found it tedious going.

    I didn’t get to the bit about Social Media, but you have done that for me.

    As always, I find that the judgment of those who write policy documents of any sort, seem to miss the point, often without any insight into the error of their ways.

    I find that statement that Nuns may be permitted to use social media as a little grudging or patronizing and and even a little sarcastic – as if they can’t quite believe that Nuns can be trusted to talk to anyone outside the community, let alone to wider world via the internet.

    But I can see by the responses here that support for your work and ministry via the internet is valued and people recognize that, whatever Senior Clergy in the Church believe.

    I hesitate to suggest that a few Women Clergy in the Senior parts of the Church would be a good thing, because that is unlikely in my life time. But Pope Francis seems to at least be onside with empowering women more in the Church, so who knows where the Holy Spirit will take the Church in the future.

  15. Dear Dame Catherine,
    As a former member of a cloistered Carmelite Community which unfortunately has become a very small group, though part of that reason is that they founded a house in Finland, I am very upset with the new command concerning the size of the community as though five nuns can’t pray as well as ten. I notice that they don’t tell a men’s house how many members it must have.
    This reminds me of many years ago when Rome forced all the communities to redo their Constituions.

  16. Dear Sister Catherine, l despair for you and your blessed Sisters in your wonderful community. Your love, devotion and discipline for the Lord must not be brushed aside by clerical maladministration. I have always championed the role of women in God’s holy catholic and apostolic Church. For too long, misogyny has marginalised the invaluable contribution women have made since the founding of Christianity. God bless and care for you, your Sisters and your wonderful community. Peace and love be with you xx

  17. Oh, oh, oh.
    As in ‘words are failing me’ and perhaps I’ll just have to resort to ‘groaning’ as Paul so descriptively put it in an epistle.

    I thought there only had to be “two or three gathered together in prayer”?

    I’m mostly through reading Acts for our Bible Society read a book a month club and have been struck by how many women are mentioned with respect.
    I’ll groan some more for you and all the other smaller communities.

  18. I know I’ve already commented, but I’ve been thinking today of Mary Ward, an example of holiness, decisiveness, vision and enormous courage.
    When faced with ridiculous rules from the Vatican she defied them and was thrown into jail. That didn’t stop her and her life and principles have been an example to women in the church ever since.
    Compliance isn’t always the way to go.

    ‘The pope at the time was Urban VIII, the same pontiff who threw Galileo in prison for daring to suggest that the Earth orbited around the Sun.

    Now this revolutionary woman had gone to Rome asking him for official approval of her rebellious order which lived in defiance of centuries of Catholic teaching.

    It was, therefore, perhaps of little surprise that Urban threw Ward in jail and issued a papal bull ordering her movement to be suppressed.’

  19. I am shocked and horrified all the way from the San Francisco Bay Area to hear of this absolute nonsense. Why choose the number 8? Why not 10 or 5 or 7? Such arbitrary numbers cannot be used to suffocate smaller religious communities…for what purpose? To what end?Surely not for the greater glory of God! In the United States,women can petition a Bishop to live a single consecrated life as a religious Hermit taking vows of poverty,chastity aand obedience. So if women can live alone as religious here, why the new rule on no less than 8 can exist any longer?My prayers daily for your survival.

  20. I am so sad to read this blog. My prayers for you and your Community at this very worrying time and for all other smaller Communities too. I have gained much from your blogs and trust you and your thoughts expessed here daily. Prayers for you now and always.

    • Thank you, Mary. You have known us from our beginnings as a community, and the support you and the ladies of the Wantage CWL have unfailingly given us have been a real blessing in some difficult times. I know you won’t stop praying for us or others in our situation.

  21. Oh Lord. Sigh. Same old same old in the patriarchy, then, but this threat to the autonomy of small communities such as yours is just appalling. And at a personal level, you could really do without any extra stress at the moment. I’m sorry; and I continue to pray for you and your house. Veni Creator Spiritus…

  22. Hi Sister,

    I’m so sorry to hear about this. A few months ago I began seriously discerning a religious vocation. I’m in my early 30s, and have been shocked to see the clear double standard for men and women religious in the process. I have a number of monk friends who are holy men and often on social media, whereas many convents I contact expect their sisters to write letters as a permanent mode of communication, with perhaps a weekly phone call to immediate family only. Our diocesan vocation director acknowledged to me that he doesn’t think it’s fair either, but I just have to accept it if I want to move forward in discernment. Ugh.

  23. Hi Sister

    I am sorry to hear that you have been knocked about by another bout of chemotherapy. I hope you recover quickly.

    If the Vatican is wrong about social media and its use by women then why not ignore what it says and do what you believe to be right?

  24. Maybe this is a naive question…but if these documents are about best practices for contemplative life, why wouldn’t they be addressed to both men and women equally? I don’t get the need for a document about only women contemplatives.

  25. Sister, I share your frustration and despair. Once more we have men telling nuns what it is to be a woman and imposing their ideas completely inappropriately. They do not know one iota of the dynamics of Carmel or they would not have given out more instructions which will lead to more disruption and more exits. This takes us back centuries. I presume the ‘nine years’ comes from active religious and Jesuits.

    • At no point were we consulted, so I don’t know the background to some of the provisions although I can probably make an ‘educated guess’ about some of them. Sadly, many small communities are going to be badly affected; and, I think, in time, some of the larger ones, too. That very long mandatory formation period is going to put a lot of strain on people, especially older candidates. To have to wait nine or twelve years before knowing one is definitevly accepted is, in my view, harsh.

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