News of the CIB

Sister Thérèse-Marie Dupagne, OSB
Prioress of Our Lady of Hurtebise (Belgium)


Here are a few points which have concerned the female Benedictine world in the course of the last year.

On the occasions of its last Symposium at Rome in September 2018 the CIB gained a change of moderator and part of the administrative council. Sister Lynn Mckenzie was elected to succeed Sister Judith Ann Heble.

The Roman document Cor Orans has of course occupied attention and mobilised energies to see how best to reply to it. The call to work more closely in groups is good news, especially for isolated monasteries. But it must be recognised that many monasteries were already part of webs of collaboration more or less juridical, more or less close and more or less effective. The call to regroup or affiliate is excellent, though for a large number of fragile monasteries it may already be too late. Besides, are the communities which could help fragile communities at least modestly sufficiently numerous to make an impression, at least in the northern hemisphere? At least it would be dangerous that Rome should authoritatively assign the attachment of certain communities to existing federations without their giving their point of view.

Faced with the proposal to make federations, the Benedictine tendency would be rather to regroup in congregations with a president, a council and general chapter. In federation authority is differently divided between a federal assembly, a federal president and the bishop. Most of the monasteries have set out on the way, some of them to revise the statutes of their federation to accord with Cor Orans, some by strengthening their link with the masculine congregation to which they already belong without the risk of clericalism which this can bring and which several congregations are trying to resist. Certain communities have asked the masculine congregations with which they are associated whether it would be possible to be incorporated in these congregations.

Certain federations (in Italy and Spain) were already on the way to transforming their structure into that of a congregation, and are continuing their work of revising the constitutions to fit them to Cor Orans. Certain communities have decided to re-found anew: this is the case, for example, of eleven monasteries of Europe who have chosen to unite to found a new Benedictine feminine congregation. Certain isolated monasteries pose a lot of questions. There are countries, such as Sri Lanka, where it is not easy to find monasteries to found a federation or congregation, and to associate with others to make exchanges and collaboration possible. In short, creativity is at work to find various solutions in order to deal with the situation.

A questionable point is the systematic lengthening of the time of formation. The possibility of a longer time of formation already exists in our constitutions, but that this lengthening should become automatic seems inadequate, especially in the West where candidates arrive at a more mature age. Hopefully a solution will be found.

Another point is worrying small communities: certain communities which already belong to a congregation, but have small numbers (but have been in this state for a very long time) are afraid of finding themselves obliged to close, even though they have established a way of life, respectful of their small numbers, going in the way of skeets, but still witnessing to an authentically monastic way of life where they are. In parallel, the limit of fifteen years to decide the autonomy of closure of a foundation seems really too short – and why should this affect only nuns?

The question of enclosure was tossed around a good deal at the time of the reception of the questionnaire of the CIVCSVA four years ago, but does not seem to be a problem at present. The possibilities of choice in the matter of enclosure are clearly presented. The majority of Benedictine sisters recognise themselves in Perfectae Caritatis article 9 (concerning ‘the venerable monastic institution’) and not in Perfectae Caritatis 7 (institutes wholly devoted to contemplation). They deplore the frequent confusion in the matter.

It is clear that in the future the structure of the CIB could change. At present it is organised into 19 regions on a geographical basis; it could re-form, for it would be formed of monasteries grouped into federations and congregations. It is obvious that if a worldwide organisation is to do good work, local and regional organisation must exist. In our meetings such as the Symposium preoccupations differ widely from one continent to another.

Sister Scholastika Häring, a specialist in the law for nuns, is an important help to the CIB. She wrote her thesis on the history of the CIB and the law for nuns (the thesis was written in German and has been translated into English).

Abbot Gregory Polan in his welcome at the opening of the Symposium alluded to the crisis which the whole Church is undergoing because of the abuse committed by members of the Church. We welcomed this frank statement. Problems of abuse occur on certain continents especially against female religious. This type of problem has been recognised and structures have been put in place to avoid this sort of problem, and for this we are grateful. But we fear that not all has yet been brought to light and that other situations of the same kind remain to be dealt with. If it is painful for masculine monasteries to discover that one or several members have committed such abuses, feminine monasteries more often find themselves in the situation of accompanying victims of previous abuse. All this certainly requires serious reflection.

A reason for hope is that new members of our communities present at the Symposium shared their thoughts about hospitality. They described the difficult political situations in many countries and explained what it means for themselves and their communities to stand side by side with the poor with courage and wisdom. They bore witness to their yearning to be witnesses of hope in the heart of the world.

The publication of Cor Orans, the question of abuses committed against female religious in certain countries, the synod for young people each raise in different ways questions about the place of women in the Church. There is certainly here a serious opportunity to conceive a new monasticism in the Church.