The Unveiling

Double Crossed
Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns
Kenneth Briggs
Doubleday, $24.95, 272 pp.

A religious sister I know who is principal of an inner-city Catholic high school likes to joke that a nun’s retirement begins five minutes after the start of her wake. She exaggerates, of course, but she’s right that retirement is a rare luxury for most women religious. Many sisters continue to work, often full-time, well after the average American has retired. As a result, American Catholics have yet to feel the full impact of what will likely be the almost complete disappearance of American religious women from the daily life of the church. From a high of almost one hundred eighty thousand in the mid-1960s, the ranks of sisters have thinned to less than seventy thousand. If that statistic isn’t startling enough, the next should be: There are more sisters over the age of ninety than under the age of thirty.

How did this happen? As late as the mid-1960s, many congregations of women religious were still expanding. Why did so many women leave the convent in the days after the Second Vatican Council, and why have so few entered since? In Double Crossed, Kenneth Briggs, former religion editor of the New York Times, seeks to answer these questions. Using personal interviews with dozens of nuns, including women who served as leaders of congregations during the council (such as the late Mary Luke Tobin, SL), Briggs weaves a compelling narrative of women’s religious life since Vatican II—although his analysis...

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About the Author

Anthony D. Andreassi, CO, a member of the Brooklyn Oratory, teaches at Regis High School in New York City.