Monday, 4 May 2009

Losing the Habit

Available on BBC iplayer -Losing the Habit

From their website:
"British nuns tell the story of the dramatic Vatican reforms 40 years ago that forced them to abandon a life of seclusion and adapt to the modern world.

The Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life in October 1965 may not have dominated the world's news agenda at the time, but it resulted in a revolution. Instead of a flight from the world, women's religious orders found themselves pressured into experimenting with new freedoms in the way they lived and worked. The end result was a 'new religious woman' in a cultural age when women were claiming their voice. But for many, it was a bruising journey: 'I've felt like a chameleon for the past 40 years,' says Sister Dorothy Bell.

We hear the testimonies of four women: Sister Dorothy Bell, June Raymond, Gemma Simmons and Sister Christine Charlesworth talk to Moyra Tourlamain about their initial decisions on entering the church and the subsequent upheaval when the Vatican reassessed its place and image in 20th-century society.

For some, the new encouragement towards freedom and individual decision making was empowering and refreshed their vocation; for others, it felt almost like betrayal. The results are still difficult to gauge. Numbers have dropped significantly, but that was already a trend in the 1960s."
Some quotes from the participants show that opinion as to the success of the reforms was, and still is, mixed. There were clear benefits for mission:
"It came as quite a shock to people when they started looking back at their origins, at their history. For instance a number of women's religious orders realised that they had never been intended to be considered nuns in the monastic sense, they had never been intended to live in large convents, large communities living a regimented way of life. A number of women's orders had been founded for quite front line missions -working with the very poor, working with orphans, working with prostitutes -but working outside the institution. They'd never been intended to wear monastic dress, but these were things that were imposed on them by the church in later centuries."

"I can remember a student saying to me "You know, I feel quite differently about you now that I can see you've got knees"
But also great regrets for what was lost:
"It was simply gorgeous, it was full seventeenth century widow's gear complete with a very complex veil....we wore linen cuffs which were modeled on cuffs that had been made for us by Queen Mary of Modena back in the seventeenth century. It was a very becoming habit, people looked very good in it, but it did take you a while to get dressed in the morning."

"Suddenly you weren't a traditional nun any more and I was quite sad about that because I rather liked the formality and the discipline of the old style nuns."
Listen soon as it disappears at 11:30 on Wednesday morning.

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