The Catholic Church is loosening the rules for women who want to “marry Jesus” and become “consecrated virgins,” saying they no longer have to actually be virgins.
Their problematic rules requiring abstinence for priests and nuns will, however, remain in place.
The U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins — a real group — pushed back against the Vatican for declaring in a document released earlier this month that a woman doesn’t need to have “kept her body in perfect continence” to marry Jesus and become a consecrated virgin for life. There are currently about 5,000 of these women around the world; they all wear wedding rings and practice abstinence.
The U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins issued a statement calling the document “deeply disappointing” and said the advice was “shocking.”
“The entire tradition of the Church has firmly upheld that a woman must have received the gift of virginity — that is, both material and formal (physical and spiritual) — in order to receive the consecration of virgins,” it said.
Information on the British National Office for Vocation’s website also appears to differ from the new guidance, stating that the women must not have “lost virginity through voluntary intercourse” or been previously married. It adds: “While the numbers of those seeking consecration as widows and widowers appears to be growing, there is not currently a rite in the Western Church for this particular form of consecration.”
This appears to be more than just an oversight. Based on the outrage from consecrated virgin groups, it seems to be a major change.
Quite honestly, I see both sides of this. Yes, traditionally, “virginity” and purity have been required of those in any leadership position in the Catholic Church. But maybe they are trying to change that by loosening the mandate at the lowest levels. Maybe they see that people are leaving the Catholic Church (and organized religion) in droves and want to appeal to a wider base of people. That wouldn’t be surprising at all — and overlooking the previous sexual experiences for these women who are now pledging celibacy is hardly a big shift in the grand scheme of things.
Traditions can change, after all. In any case, the Vatican document says that the “call to give witness” to the “love for Christ” can’t be reduced “to the symbol of physical integrity.” It downplays the importance of virginity when it comes to devotion to Christ.
But if the Vatican truly believes that virginity isn’t essential for someone who wants to dedicate her life to the Church, it should apply the rule consistently across the board. Why use sex as a method of control over nuns and priests? Why should a priest have to remain completely celibate if the love for Christ can’t be reduced to a physical, bodily symbol? Especially considering the problems that policy has contributed to over time.
I don’t know if this document represents a true change in the Church’s way of thinking, or if it’s a publicity stunt, or something in between, but Catholics would be wise to embrace it and hope the rules change for more people in the years to come.
(Thanks to Brian for the link)