YOUR ARTICLE on the decision of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary to pull out of their schools in Ascot and Shaftesbury (18 April) quotes a "Church spokesman" as stating "Now there is free schooling for all and we have the National Health Service, nuns have been supplanted by the state".
I was not aware that the state was doing wonderfully well in dealing with homelessness, teenage abortion, drug addiction, alcohol abuse and all the other sad issues that blight modern Britain, but this comment is also interesting because it shows the English Catholic Church's perception of the female ministry as lay and only lay.
It seems to me that women are now less influential in the so-called "modern" English Church than ever before in the nation's history. Women have never been priests in England, but the religious life has always been open to them.
In the Anglo-Saxon Church nuns exerted very powerful roles as Abbesses; in the middle ages, again, Anchoresses and Mystics such as Julian of Norwich were sought after for their wise counsel and in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, nuns led exciting and innovative lives as bearers of social reform.
Only when the Catholic Church did not officially exist (ie post-Reformation) was there no "official" influential role for women in the Church but, at this time, Mary Ward herself was at work founding a new congregation "in hiding".
Over the past 30 years in England the English Church has continued to encourage vocations to the priesthood and also has created the male married "diaconate". Male members of the Church now have three ministeries open to them — priesthood, diaconate and lay. However, the Pope has ruled out a female priesthood, there has been no word on a female diaconate and the English Church has not in any way promoted vocations to the female religious life.
There is thus one option open to women in the English Catholic Church: the lay ministry.
During the course of history, while the majority of women have wanted to marry there have always been independent free-spirited women who have wanted to give their whole lives to an ideal or a cause.
In Eastern European countries, such as Poland and Romania, vocations are encouraged and are on the rise and there is thus a role for these women in the Church.
In England, with the decline in vocations, there is increasingly no place for such women and as a result women are now less influential in the English Church than ever before.
The modern Church is currently run by an all-male priesthood which allows its women a lay ministry. The Pope has said there is to be no female priesthood. If there is also no revival of the female religious orders in England there will only be one option left for the woman who feels she is called to a full-time ministry in the Church: to convert to Anglicanism!
Not surprising then that the Catholic Church is declining faster than any other religion in the UK. Will there be any women left in the Church in the 21st century?
The evidence suggests that as women become less influential, lay women, too, leave in despair.
Debbi Flint Clevedon