A Vatican cardinal has denounced the “sick system of relationships of submission and domination” that “in many cases” women religious suffer at the hands of men in the Church.

– “Sick” relationships “take away freedom and joy” and lead to destructive obedience at all costs

The widespread “sick” relationships between consecrated women and men “takes away the sense of freedom and joy” in these women and leads to “an obedience that is misunderstood”, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, lamented in an interview July 27 with SomosCONFER, the publication of the Spanish Conference of Religious.

Braz de Aviz was reflecting on the ‘burnout’ suffered by many of the world’s nuns, a phenomenon which a Vatican publication – Donne Chiesa Mondo (“Women Church World”), a supplement to official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romanodenounced in its February 2020 issue, decrying the deplorable working conditions that women religious often endure and the sexual and power abuses they are often subject to.

For Braz de Aviz, one of the factors behind the burnout in nuns is the fact that drops in membership and vocations to religious orders have not been accompanied by a revision of old governance structures in orders, leading to an administrative overload.

“A structure that is too large and administered by a few people imposes a disproportionate burden on its members. Worse still when this weight is placed on the shoulders of the young”, the cardinal lamented.

Another factor in the exhausation of women religious is the over-centralisation of religious orders, Braz de Aviz continued, explaining that that top-down approach leads to “forced” and “juridical” relationships in community, above all, instead of the “patient and loving attitude of dialogue and trust” that is the cornerstone of religious life.

That’s on top, too, of the fact that “gaps in the period of initial formation or ongoing formation” of some religious “have allowed the development of personal attitudes that are not totally identified with the call to consecrated life in community, such that relationships are contaminated and create loneliness and sadness”, the cardinal lamented.

“In many communities there has been little development of the awareness that for us the Other, male or female, is the presence of Jesus, and that, in the relationship with the Beloved in the Other, we can guarantee His constant presence in the community”, Braz de Aviz added.

To remedy these shortcomings in some religious houses, the cardinal called for “a spirituality of communion in which the Other becomes central to our experience of God” which he said would throw new light “on the experience of authority as service and not as dominance marked… by false spiritual motivations”.

– “Old models” of religious life “that are not very evangelical” still resisting reform

Braz de Aviz admitted that times are tough for consecrated life, which he lamented “suffers from a lack of vocations, has aged a lot and is wounded by a lack of perseverance”.

But the cardinal said there is still hope, above all in the “documents and close accompaniment” that Pope Francis has offered women and men religious in his seven years of pontificate to date.

“The change of epoch is provoking a new sensitivity to return to the following of Christ, to a sincere fraternal life in community, to the reform of formation systems, to the overcoming of abuses of authority and to transparency in the possession, use and administration of goods”, the cardinal celebrated, on the one hand.

But on the other, he warned that “old models that are not very evangelical still resist a change that is necessary for a witness to the Kingdom of God inserted in the present moment”.

More stories on Novena on religious life:

Nun speaks out for more leadership for women in Catholicism: “The Lord wants a change in the Church”

German nuns denounce “dependence” on priests “takes away our dignity”

Nun takes charge of German bishop’s office: “The Church as a whole would benefit if there were more women in leadership positions”

German nuns describe search for sacrament during COVID-19 beyond “dependence” on ordained men

More on the mistreatment of women religious:

“Total exploitation”: Former Vatican journalist hits out at priests’ treatment of women religious

Experts warn stress, abuse, “unattainable ideal” of spirituality causing drop in number of women religious, decline in new vocations

Burnout, stress, exploitation, prostitution… Vatican magazine lifts lid on abuse of women religious

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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.