Recently there was a splash in Catholic news and blogs around the figure of 3,000 religious said to leave their institutes each year. This was quoted from a talk by Archbishop Carballo, former General Minister of the OFM and current Secretary for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. His talk, or at least the part of it that made it into print, was folded into another presentation by one of our friars, which I was then asked to translate. Since I haven't seen any other English translation, what follows after the jump is my translation of Archbishop Carballo's talk. I am not an artful translator, and I am entirely to blame for any errors or misrepresentations.
For a long time we have spoken of a ‘crisis’ in the religious and consecrated life. And to justify this diagnosis there is frequent recourse to the number who leave, exacerbating the already alarming decreasing of vocations striking a great number of institutes, which, if it continues, puts the survival of some of them in serious danger.
I will not enter here into the debate about whether the “crisis” of which we speak is a positive thing or not. It is certain, however, taking into account the number who leave and that the majority of them happen at a relatively young age, this is a worrying phenomenon. On the other hand, considering the fact that the hemorrhage continues and shows no sign of stopping, those who leave are certainly a symptom of a broader crisis in religious and consecrated life, and bring it into question at least in the concrete form in which it is lived.
For all this, even if we certainly cannot let ourselves obsess over the theme – every obsession is negative – is it also certain that before the problem we cannot ‘look the other way’ or ‘hide our head in the sand.’ On the other hand, although it is certain, also, that there are many social and cultural factors that influence the phenomenon of those who leave, these are surely not the only cause and we cannot refer to them just to tranquilize ourselves and explain the phenomenon away until we see as ‘normal’ what is not.
It isn't easy to know with precision the number of those who leave the religious and consecrated life each year, also because there are processes that go to the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, others that come instead to the Congregation for the Clergy and still others that end up in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In any case the numbers available to us are consistent, as can be seen from the data given to us from the first two Congregations.
In five years (2008-2012), our dicastery gave 11,805 dispensations: indults to leave the institute, decrees of dismissal, secularization ad experimentum ad secularization in order to incardinate in a diocese. This means an annual average of 2,361 dispensations.
The Congregation for the Clergy, in the same years, gave 1,188 dispensations from priestly obligations and 130 dispensations from the obligations of the diaconate. These are all religious; a annual average of 367.6. Putting this data together with the other, we have the following: 13,123 men and women religious have left in five years, with an annual average of 2,624.6. That is 2.54 for every 1,000 religious. To these there is need to add all the cases treated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
According to a calculation that is approximate but sure enough, this means that more than 3,000 men and women religious have left the consecrated life each year. The members of societies of apostolic life who have left are not included in the total, nor those of temporary vows.
Of course numbers aren't everything, but it would be naive to disregard them.
Before indicating some of the causes of the departures, I believe it opportune to say that it is almost impossible to reveal the causes exactly. Why? It is very simple: we don’t have fully reliable data. At times, it is one thing that you write, another that you live. Moreover, in many cases what the documents say is what we get at the end of a procedure which does not necessarily coincide with the true cause for leaving. Nevertheless, from the documentation that our dicastery has, we can identify the following causes.
Absence of spiritual life – personal prayer, common prayer, sacramental life - which leads, many times, to focus exclusively on the work of the apostolate, in order to be able to move ahead or in order to find some subterfuge. Many times this lack of spiritual life flows into a profound crisis of faith, for many the true and deepest crisis of religious and consecrated life and of the same life of the Church. Thus there is no longer sense in the vows – in general before leaving there are grave or continued offenses against them – nor even in the consecrated life itself. In these cases, obviously, the departure is a ‘normal’ exit and most logical.
The loss of the sense of belonging to the community, to the institute, and, in some case, to the Church. At the origin of many departures there is: a disaffection with the common life that manifests itself in the systematic criticism of the members of one’s own community or institute, particularly those in authority, which produces a great dissatisfaction; a scarce participation in community events or in the projects of the community because of a lack of balance between the needs of the common life and the needs of the individual and of the apostolate he carries out; a search outside for what isn't found in the house.
The most common problems in the fraternal life in community, according to the documentation we have, are: problems in interpersonal relationships, misunderstandings, lack of dialogue and authentic communication, psychological inability to live the demands of the fraternal life in community, inability to resolve conflicts…
With regard to the loss of a sense of belonging to the Church, at times it comes from a lack of true communion with her which is manifested, among other things, in not sharing the teaching of the Church on specific topics such as women priests and sexual morality.
All of this ends with a loss of the sense of belonging to the institution, whether it be the local community, the religious institute, or the Church, which comes to be considered only in how it can serve their own interests: for example, the religious house, many times, comes to be considered a ‘hotel’ or a simple ‘residence.’ The lack of a sense of belonging also often also leads to physical absence from the community, without any permission.
It always strikes me to see religious who leave religious or consecrated life very naturally, even after many years, without there being any drama. It is clear that they are leaving nothing, for their hearts were somewhere else.
Affective problems. Here the problematic is very broad: it goes to falling in love, which ends with marriage in violation of the vow of chastity, or with repeated acts of homosexuality – most obvious among the men but equally present, more than one thinks, among the women – or with heterosexual relations which are more less frequent. Other times the affective problems have clear repercussions in the fraternal life in community, that is regarding the world of relationships, provoking continual conflict that ends up making the community unlivable. Finally, the affective problems can be such that one arrives at the conviction that he cannot live chastity and so decided, also for the sake of being coherent, to leave the consecrated life.
In the search to single out the causes or to propose guidelines, I think it necessary to take an ‘x-ray,’ though brief and limited, of the society from which our young people come, the young people who come to us, and the fraternities that welcome them.
The first thing that is clear to everyone is that we are in a world in profound transformation. It is the change that carries within itself the move from modernity to post-modernity. We live in a time characterized by unpredictable cultural changes: new cultures and subcultures, new symbols, new lifestyles and new values. And it all happens at a dizzying pace.
While in modernity there existed the plausibility of a global project, of an idea matrix, of a ‘north’ as a lighthouse of behavior, the current moment is characterized by uncertainly, doubt, by withdrawing into the day-to-day and the emotional. Thus, it becomes difficult to understand what is essential and what is secondary or accidental.
This produces in many: a disorientation before a reality that presents itself with such complexity that it can’t be perceived; uncertainty due to the lack of certainty of what anchors one’s own life; insecurity for lack of secure reference points. All of this combines in a great disappointment in the face of essential questions, which are thus considered useless, because everything is possible and what there is today ceases to be tomorrow.
Our time is also the time of the market. Everything is measured and evaluated according to utility and profitability, even persons. They, in market terms, are valued according to what they produce and in what they are useful. Their value oscillates, therefore, according to demand. Such a mercantilist conception of the person comes to privilege what they do, utility, and even whether they seem to exist.
We also live in a time that we can define as the time of zapping. Zapping, literally, means: moving from one channel to the other, using the remote control, without stopping anywhere. Symbolically, zapping means not taking on commitments in the long term, moving from one experiment to another without having any experience that marks a life. In a world where everything is made easy, there is no place for sacrifice, nor renunciation, nor similar values. In contrast, these are present in the choice of a vocation that demands, however, going against the current, as in the vocation to the consecrated life.
Finally, we need to note that the world in which we live, and also in close connection with what we have called the ‘market mentality,’ there is the dominance of neo-individualism and the culture of subjectivism. The individual is the measure of everything and everything is seen, measured, and evaluated as a function of self and of self-realization. In such a world, in which each feels uniquely excellent, frequently there is not deep communication. The man of today talks a lot, is apparently a great communicator, but in reality he does not succeed in communicating deeply and therefore fails to meet the other.
At the conclusion of our reflection we ask ourselves the question: in a society like ours, is it possible to remain faithful to an option of life that begins and is called to be definitive and irrevocable?
The answer seems simple to me when we keep in mind the many consecrated who live joyously the fidelity to the commitments they took on in their profession. In any case, to prevent departures, without deluding ourselves about avoiding them completely, I believe what follows to be necessary.
That consecrated and religious life place at the center a renewed experience of God, one and triune, and consider this experience as its fundamental structure. The essence of consecrated and religious life is the quaerere Deum, to seek God, to live in God.
That the option for the living God (cf. John 20:17) is not lived in a closed mysticism separated from everything and from everyone, but that leads the consecrated to participate in the Trinitarian dynamism ad intra and ad extra. Participation in the Trinitarian dynamism ad intra supposes relationships of communion with others and carries within itself the gift of self to the others. On the other hand, to live the Trinitarian dynamism ad extra leads to living critically and prophetically in the heart of society.
That there be a clear decision to place the quality of evangelical life before the number of members of the maintenance of works.
That in the pastoral care of vocations the consecrated and religious be presented in all of its evangelical radicality and that discernment is made consonant with said need.
That during initial formation a personalized accompaniment is assured and that we don’t become ‘stable’ in the demands of a consecrated life that is to be evangelically significant.
That in the pastoral care of vocations, initial and ongoing formation, there be continuity and coherence.
That during the first years of solemn profession there be assured an adequate and personalized accompaniment.
A beautiful eastern proverb says, ‘the eye sees only the sand, but the illuminated heart can glimpse the end of the desert and the fertile land.’ We look with the heart. Maybe we will be able to see what the others don’t see.