MEMBERS of the Roman Catholic Order of Virgins have accused the Vatican of causing confusion by issuing a statement which suggests that women who have lost their virginity can join their number.
A long-awaited Vatican instruction on consecrated virginity, Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, was pronounced as “deeply disappointing” by the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins because it appeared to change the rule about the Order’s being open only to women whose virginity is intact.
Clause 88 of the document says that for a woman “to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practiced the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way, while of great importance with regard to the discernment, are not essential prerequisites in the absence of which admittance to consecration is not possible”.
The US group said in a statement that the document was “intentionally convoluted and confusing”, and “deeply disappointing in its denial of integral virginity as the essential and natural foundation of the vocation to consecrated virginity. . .
“It is shocking to hear from Mother Church that physical virginity may no longer be considered an essential prerequisite for consecration to a life of virginity.
“The entire tradition of the Church has firmly upheld that a woman must have received the gift of virginity — that is, both material and formal (physical and spiritual) — in order to receive the consecration of virgins.”
The group emphasised that the new instruction did not supersede the Church’s Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity.
The rite was introduced under Pope Paul VI in 1970, when he reinstated the Order of Virgins, and it specifies that “virginity is a minimum requirement for consecration”.
The new instruction was issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in early July, after numerous requests from bishops for clarity on the part played by consecrated virgins, after a global surge in vocations.
There are about 5000 members of the Order of Virgins worldwide; the US association represents about 130 of them.
In the UK, there are about 200 consecrated virgins in the Order, which, the website of the National Office for Vocation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales says, is open to “women who have not lost virginity through voluntary intercourse and who have never married. . .
“Because consecrated virgins have no rule or community, own their own property, and care for their personal needs, it is particularly important that those who are discerning this state of life are mature and self-reliant women.”
Traditionally, consecrated virgins are women who have never had intercourse, and who choose to live celibate lives to obtain closer union with God, while living an otherwise ordinary life within their communities.
They pledge perpetual virginity and service in the Church under the guidance of their local bishop.