A CANTERBURY TALE
I was interested to read Gilbert Meilaender’s review of Mere Christianity: A Biography,which explored in some detail C. S. Lewis’s famous work. This was partly because I am a former pupil of the great man, when I was up at Oxford in his time there, and partly because I have since published a book entitled A Challenge to C. S. Lewis (Associated University Presses, 1995), including a chapter devoted to a critique of Mere Christianity, in view of its essentially Protestant, if not Puritan, presentation (echoing the original words of the Puritan divine Richard Baxter). I contrast Mere Christianity with John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, with its emphasis on the two Catholic doctrines of the primacy of Peter and devotion to the Virgin Mary, the acceptance of which led Newman from the Anglican to the Church of Rome. Those doctrines are prudently glossed over by Lewis.
Peter Milward, SJ
I read with great interest Kathleen Sprows Cummings’s review of Tom Roberts’s biography of Joan Chittister, OSB. My interest turned to surprise when I saw my name in the review with a reference to “ideologically based judgments Carey and others make about women’s religious life.” Curious to see what this was all about, I obtained the book.
Roberts cites me extensively as “representative” of the view that many leaders of women religious—Sr. Chittister among them—greatly exceeded the renewal mandate of Vatican II and transformed their orders into organizations more like secular corporations than religious institutions.
To his credit, Roberts portrayed my Sisters in Crisis book fairly, writing that it is “an important book,” which “is an invaluable source with its attention to dates, details, influential actors, and such.”
He disagrees, however, with some of the conclusions I reach in the book, particularly my assessment that the religious orders that will do best in the future are those that have maintained what I call the “classic” way of religious life. That model is more attractive to modern young people because they tend to want to live and pray in community, maintain close ties with the hierarchy, and engage in a corporate apostolate in the name of the Catholic Church.
Roberts writes that this conclusion “is barely supported by the data.” He goes on to cite a study that he said found that “almost equal numbers of women” have been attracted to the two different types of religious orders: (1) the classic orders that are represented by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), and (2) those that Roberts terms “progressive” orders, represented by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
However, Roberts made a mistake unbecoming a veteran journalist by not checking the primary source for that study: “Recent Vocations to Religious Life,” a 2009 report by the Georgetown Center for Research in the Apostolate (CARA) for the National Religious Vocation Conference.
Roberts does briefly mention, but then passes over, the study finding that entrants to LCWR orders tend to be over forty, and those to CMSWR orders younger. Worse, he does not engage the actual numbers, which were collected from responses of LCWR and CMSWR orders.
The LCWR represents 80 to 85 percent of all U.S. women religious, with most of the rest represented by CMSWR. Responding to the CARA survey were 274 (about 80 percent) of LCWR orders and 61 (about half) of CMSWR orders.
In other words, half of the classic orders (representing about 10 percent of U.S. sisters) received half of all new entrants, while over three-quarters of the progressive orders (representing about 65 percent of U.S. sisters) got the same number of entrants.
To conclude that both types of orders get equal numbers of new vocations, one would have to assume that none of the nonresponding orders—half of CMSWR orders and 20 percent of LCWR orders—received any new vocations, which is really a stretch.
Claiming that the trend is for young people to prefer the classic style of religious life for women, then, is a logical conclusion, not the result of ideology, and that trend was also noted in the CARA report.
What is needed to definitively settle this difference of opinion is an objective, comprehensive survey that covers all women’s religious orders. I’m willing to bet Mr. Roberts and Ms. Cummings a tall latte that such a survey would indeed confirm my assessment.
from the comments
WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING
Yes, Trump should be heard (“Let Trump Be Heard,” April 16). And listened to. Dislike is an insufficient reason to vote against him.
Trump is ill suited to the presidency precisely because of his self-proclaimed best credential: “winning.” That is the worst quality for public office. In business, each party negotiates the best deal for his side. The businessman goes after what is best for his company, regardless of what happens to the other guy. In fact, driving competition out of business might be good for him.
In civic negotiations, many clients have competing interests. A railroad may be good for travelers, but bad for its neighbors. Since civil collaboration must work toward “the common good,” all sides may have to compromise. A person focused on “winning” has the wrong skill set for a president. In fact, his skills are the exact opposite of those needed by a good public officer.
San Juan Capistrano, Calif.