The “Affair” of the Consecrated Virgin Indicia: A Cautionary Tale

Susanna and the Elders

by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

The world of consecrated virgins is astir because a consecrated virgin has been alleged to be a “mistress” to an archbishop. It goes against the very heart of sacred virginity for a consecrated virgin to have an affair with any human being; the “fallen virgin” becomes an adulteress to her Divine Spouse.  Excommunication and even (at one time) capital punishment were meted out to those who engaged in this serious and sacrilegious behavior in centuries gone by. This being said, now would be a good time to bring up the alarming case of the consecrated virgin, Indicia, because her story is a truly cautionary tale for consecrated virgins, bishops, and the faithful alike.

Indicia was consecrated as a Spouse of Christ by Bishop Zeno.  At the time, she was an orphan, and some say, an heiress.  Some years after her solemn consecration, she lived with a reputable consecrated virgin friend in another diocese, but eventually decided to move to the home of her newly wedded sister and brother-in-law, “Max”.

Max decided to circulate rumors by letter that Indicia was a fallen virgin.  Eventually, Max informed their bishop, Bishop Syagrius, that Indicia had secretly given birth at a monastery and murdered her infant.  In short, he accused Indicia of capital crimes.  Strikingly, though, he did not sign his name to this accusation.  People threatened to leave the Church if the bishop didn’t do something about Indicia.  Bishop Syagrius bowed to public pressure:  He ordered Indicia to undergo a medical examination.  He did this solely on the basis of Max’s unsigned accusation without conducting a thorough investigation and fair trial.  To soften the humiliation of this medical examination, he suggested that Indicia’s consecrated virgin friend, Marcellina, be present.  Marcellina indignantly refused, as she was convinced of Indicia’ purity.

Marcellina’s brother, a bishop, took up Indicia’s cause.  He convened local bishops and held a trial. In addition to Max’s (unsigned) allegations, two women were the principle witnesses, as well as two men associated with them who spread the word about Indicia’s alleged activities.  The two women fled before they could be questioned.  The penalty for calumny was exile, and it is supposed that they did not wish to risk this.  The two men were questioned separately, and like the Biblical story of Susanna, they gave contradictory accounts of the affair.

It should be pointed out that Max had not signed his name to any accusation – he was essentially an anonymous accuser.  The two female “witnesses” had fled (one of them had been seduced by one of the two males).  The men gave contradictory accounts of Indicia’s alleged crimes- violation of her spousal bond with Christ as a veiled virgin, and infanticide.  The legal analysis of the case was clear.  There was no accuser – an anonymous accusation is inadmissible; at the time, an accuser had to provide proof of allegations or he/she could suffer severe penalties for calumny. There were no eye-witnesses.  Indeed, the witnesses had fled the area.  Witnesses are usually necessary for a just and fair trial, particularly when capital punishment and/or excommunication is at stake.  It is widely accepted that the rationale for their disappearance was that the witnesses knew they would be committing perjury if they stuck to their story in court and that they would be liable to exile for calumny.  This can be deduced from the hearsay testimony produced from their two male cohorts.  Also, the credibility of one of the witnesses was weakened because she had been seduced by one of the two male accomplices. Most importantly, in analyzing this situation, is the fact that the two men who had been the women’s collaborators had contradictory accounts of the alleged crime.  Thus, everything was “hearsay”, with no evidence and contradictory testimony from non-witnesses.

The trial was just and transparent.  Max and the two men were excommunicated until they were repentant and had satisfied the penances imposed upon them.  Indicia was exonerated.  Her own bishop was severely rebuked on several points. Syagrius had caved to public pressure.  He also side-stepped the correct way of handling the issue:  namely, he tried to informally try Indicia and attempted to force her – although she had the legal presumption of innocence – to have an invasive gynecological exam.  The correct way of proceeding was to inform the public that he had not received a formal accusation from a named accuser and therefore her good name and reputation must be upheld.  He was unjust because some of the faithful were threatening to leave the Church if he didn’t punish Indicia on account of the rumors.  Also, not only did he side-step the legal route of holding a trial or judging that a trial could not take place on account of the lack of a named accuser; but he used his position to demand the medical examination.  This was unjust and against the human dignity of Indicia, not to mention a potential sacrilege (on his part) precisely because it was uncalled for and unjust.

Fortunately, Indicia had powerful friends — friends who thirsted for justice and truth, friends who understood the incredible violation being proposed by Syagrius.  These were friends who were imbued by faith and who did not join the public lynching mob.  Indicia could have lost not only her reputation but also her property and even her life, because of the malicious gossip spread about her by her brother-in-law, Max.  Thanks to the efforts of her friends, Indicia was vindicated.

It is easy for a case like this to happen again.  False accusations are easily conjured, and with the internet, can be disseminated far and wide in a matter of seconds. For consecrated virgins who do not have a wise St. Ambrose or his sister, St. Marcellina, to defend them, it is necessary to know their rights when accused explicitly or implicitly of being a “fallen virgin”.

In the first place, it must be remembered that sacred virgins do not make vows of obedience to their bishop.  Thus, a bishop cannot command a virgin to ignore the situation or to just pray about it.  He may offer advice but she is not bound to accept it.  The virgin has never surrendered her natural law right to a good reputation.  The only people who are forbidden to protect their own reputation are priests who are accused of solicitation in confession, because of the confessional seal.

Secondly, even if there is an actual named accuser, the virgin must not presume that the bishop will presume her innocence, although the law requires that she be presumed innocent unless found guilty.  Many a falsely accused priest has discovered that the first thing his bishop wants to do is to throw him to the wolves.  Indeed, the bishop may try to pressure the virgin to admit guilt or quietly disappear from her apostolates by side-stepping due process and instead attempt an invalid “administrative procedure” (read: act arbitrarily) in place of a just trial – to rid himself of a potential liability to his diocese.  Often this is done secretly to shield, not the accused, but the diocese from proper external scrutiny and to absolve the bishop from responsibility to observe applicable law.  What would this look like?  Let’s say the virgin is on diocesan committees, and she is immediately taken off of them and shunned in her parish/diocese.  Her volunteer efforts are spurned.  She is an “untouchable” despite the fact that no tribunal has judged and sentenced her according to due process, and she has been denied the opportunity to appeal to Rome.  The injustice is compounded if her livelihood is dependent upon employment with a Church institution and she is fired or laid off as a result of unproven suspicions.  Accused priests have often found themselves in limbo because their bishops refuse to be just and hold a fair and timely trial. They are instead kept away from ministry and under a perpetual cloud of suspicion despite a lack of evidence for their guilt.

Why?  Because bishops succumb to public pressure (or they give in to their lawyers who calculate risk) just like Indicia’s bishop did so long ago.  Bishops are not perfect, and virgins must not naively assume bishops are, or canonize their every action.  St. Ambrose rebuked Bishop Syagrius severely because he had, in fact, acted wrongly in the case of Indicia.  The bishop has no right to stop the virgin from “being an apostle in the Church and in the world” when she has not undergone due process.  This point cannot be over emphasized; many bishops will be tempted to treat the virgin as the enemy instead of as a spiritual daughter. They may try to informally “settle” cases to the detriment of the virgin, giving the clear signal she is guilty despite lack of evidence in order to please their risk-adverse lawyers or to bow to public pressure.  Clericalism can have a significant role as well.  To the clericalist mind, it is far better to uphold the “old boys club” than it is to worry about a “mere” non-ordained person.

The bishop does not have the right — ever — to require a gynecological exam of a virgin.  The virgin may refuse this point blank, always and under any circumstances.

The virgin has the right to a good reputation.  She has the right and sometimes the duty to sue those who unlawfully harm her reputation. It appears that St. Marcellina encouraged Indicia to take legal proceedings against her brother-in-law.  Saints do not spurn justice or law.  In an age when mercy is emphasized, it can be helpful to remember that God is just and that the Church and State would not have courts if it were wrong to seek justice.  Indeed, one of the Vatican courts has the phrase “Without Justice there is No Charity” carved in Latin over its entrance.  It is merciful for a sinner to be punished on this earth rather than in the next life.  Thus, the virgin is justified and can be virtuous in pursuing civil and canonical means of defending her reputation in the tribunals of Church and State.

Bishops and virgins are not the only ones who can benefit by Indicia’s story (the Latin version of her story is available in St. Ambrose’s Letter 5/6).  The faithful also are reminded of something very fundamental.  They must not indulge in rash-judgement.  To enjoy and believe lurid tales of such serious nature without sufficient evidence pointing to guilt is rash judgement, and can be gravely sinful.  It is also gravely sinful to be part of the lynch mob, so to speak, pressuring bishops to skirt justice and encouraging others to do likewise.  We have only to look at the problematic popular treatment of “credibly accused” priests to see the dangers here.

Shifting gears, I shall speak with a heavy heart concerning the current allegation that a consecrated virgin was the mistress of an archbishop.  I am deeply saddened and disappointed that, just as in Indicia’s case, there are no named accusers, no actual proof offered.  Yes, rampant speculation is cited, but not a shred of evidence has been proffered.  There are no emails, no receipts, no contracts, no copies of visas or video footage or anything else offered to the public.  Instead we have what appears to be the equivalent of office gossip being shouted to the rooftops regardless of whom it hurts. It is also disturbing that she was all but named in one version of the tale, but not her anonymous accusers.  Since when is it right or just to vilify a private individual, whose very identity and holy vocation is at stake, not to mention the possibility of grave risk to her life and/or livelihood in her war torn, non-Christian country by reporting what has not been demonstrated to be anything other than hearsay and pure speculation?

A person is usually considered innocent unless proven guilty.  Is it possible that this consecrated virgin is being falsely accused? It is alarming to recall that St. Ambrose punished the people involved in falsely accusing the holy virgin Indicia with excommunication and strict penance.  A “living image of the Church herself” should not be judged by unsubstantiated rumors published in the media, or by the online lynch mob, whipped into a frenzy because of other scandals feeding its lust for blood.  If unlawful material or moral harm should come to her as a result of what appears to me to be simply printed hearsay, I doubt that God would treat such an offense against His sacred spouse lightly.

Personally, knowing the sole woman who fits the identifying description given in one of the articles, and knowing that some of the things claimed as “facts” are to my knowledge not facts based upon pertinent conversations I’ve had with her over the years “in tempore non-suspecto”, I have no reason to find the published speculation about her to be credible.  My argument is that if I have reason to believe that so-called “facts” are factually wrong and can be easily proven to be wrong, then why should I place my belief in the suppositions and conjectures of angry employees and former employees of the archbishop?

While I do not know all the facts of the case, it is my hope that people will disregard published rumors of this woman’s alleged “affair” because what has been published to this point does not appear to me to establish any reasonable “evidence” of wrongdoing on her part.  E.g. How does one know

  1.  what the actual text(s) say if they even exist(ed),
  2. who the true recipient(s) of the text(s) were – mother?  sister?  lover(s)? prospective lovers? employees?  others?
  3. whether the alleged texts were actually romantic,
  4.  what the context of the text(s) was – perhaps something was being quoted for an innocent purpose but is being cited as proof of wrongdoing (e.g. someone acting in a play could be photographed and the picture given to a fiancee as “proof” of infidelity),
  5.  who the actual “author” is…  is the authorship of the alleged text(s) genuinely the person being accused or is it someone who has had access to that person’s phone.

Likewise, a “romantic relationship” or being a “lover” requires reciprocity.  Where is the proof of that?  Why has this one particular woman been flagged rather than scores of other potential people?  What value can we really give to the words of angry persons who have not provided proof of their speculation?

I call upon people to pray for this virgin and for the Christians who are rapidly diminishing in number in her country.  As for the archbishop, I will say that he, too, enjoys the right to a good reputation but I would guess that he has better resources to defend this right.  Pray for him and for all who are involved in this story.

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Announcing New Webinar on Dating!



“I didn’t think it would last.  They were too …” 

Have you ever thought this when you got the news that a friend was getting a divorce?  Hindsight is always 20/20, of course.  But while it is easy to talk about what led to a divorce, it can be a lot harder to tactfully warn a person first in love and ready to march to the altar that they might be in an unhealthy relationship.  Harder still, is to recognize when the person in the unhealthy dating relationship is yourself.  Why?  

At times, serious red flags can be subtle.  They sneak up on you, as it were.  

Other times, we do recognize a red flag but minimize its importance and negative impact on marriage.  Sometimes this is because of inexperience.  Or, in other cases, it can be the result of an overly optimistic hopefulness.

Frequently, our friends or family members can spot potential problems but they don’t feel comfortable in being the “wedge” between you and the person you are dating, and hold their tongue.

The list can go on and on.  But, the bottom line is that with the divorce rate skyrocketing, we need every help we can get to beat the odds and go for a healthy, long-lasting marriage with a well-rounded spouse.  Yet, we do a lot to sabatouge this for ourselves.  

In today’s world, we spend a huge amount of time and attention to planning romantic dates or a vacation or even a wedding.  Sadly, most people take little time or effort to seriously discern whether to get married, to prepare themselves to be a good spouse, and to realistically assess the other person’s attitude and readiness for a mature Christian marriage.  This of course leads to problems down the road.  

Many of these problems could have been prevented or nipped in the bud if people knew the red flags to look for while dating! 

If you are dating, thinking about dating, or know people who are dating, you are cordially invited to a free webinar hosted by Mother Therese Ivers.  Her guest speaker will be Ms. Rose Sweet who will be giving an in-depth look on some of the red flags to be watching out for when dating.  Ms. Sweet has gained a lot of insight into how romantic relationships can be quickly soured by unhealthy dynamics in her apostolate of working with divorced people. Ms. Sweet is a recognized author and speaker, and she has graciously agreed to participate in a question and answer period after her presentation. 

You can join M. Therese and Ms. Sweet on March 19 at 4pm PST (7 pm EST) by signing up at this link here.

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A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part II

Table of contents for A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics

  1. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part I
  2. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part II

RP-T-1926-35By Therese Ivers, JCL (JCD cand.)

The Church has a specially honed vocabulary in which words have specific definitions and usages. These definitions may contrast with the normal use of the words by ordinary people in the world. An example of differing vocabulary is the common use of the word “adore” (e.g. “I adore babies!”) and the Catholic use (“I adore God” with latria worship/supreme love). Likewise, Catholics distinguish that there are three levels of “worship”, only one of which denotes “adoration”. That is, we “worship” Mary with hyperdulia veneration but God is the only object of adoration worship/veneration.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, to find that the Church has special definitions attached to words like chastity, celibacy, continence, virtue, vice, and virginity, which do not necessarily correspond to the meanings normally attached to those words by ordinary people in the world. Some terms the Church uses are better understood by people who are familiar with philosophy, because philosophy can help explain certain concepts like “willed” “formal” and “material”, which are necessary for the understanding of virginity, virtue, vice, etc.

Word: Virgin

Non-Catholic Definition

There are various meanings to the word “virgin” that can be easily accessed through dictionaries. Usually, they focus on the physical state of the woman. Specifically, the colloquial use revolves on vaginal penetration, which will usually stretch or break the hymen. “Recovered virgins” are not a possibility to some people, and others think some kind of surgical reconstruction of that area renders one a virgin again.

Catholic Definitions

Strict theological definition and use:

  • The state of a person who has not consented to venereal pleasure.
  • The state of a person who has not consented to venereal pleasure and who has committed to life-long abstinence from such for the sake of the Kingdom.

A wider sense and informal use of the term:

  • A social reality of an unmarried “single” person, often in reference to a never-married woman.

#1 and #2 are the focus of theological treatises, not #3. #3 is most often used in popular Catholic discourse and not with the intention of referring specifically to the virtue of virginity. Rather, the intention is to mark a particular demographic of unmarried persons. It should be recalled that the normative state of single people is that of virginity because that is what baptized non-married Catholics are called to live by virtue of their baptism. That not all are actually virgins does not affect this fundamental expectation of baptized unmarried persons. Therefore, we will not discuss #3 in this article.

Now let’s go on to #1 and #2 of the strict meaning of the word “virgin” in the Catholic Church.

A virgin is one who has not consented to venereal pleasure (acts). Thus an infant is born a virgin. It is this formal virginity that is a minimal expectation for all baptized unmarried persons.

Let’s unpack this a bit more. A virgin is one who has not consented to venereal pleasure (acts). This means that someone who wants to get married and in marriage enjoy the acts proper to married people but who in the meantime as a single has never consented to venereal pleasure/acts is a virgin. A woman who is raped is a virgin, provided that she did not consent to the act or any incidental pleasure that may have been present with it.

Now let’s go even further. To be a virgin is expected by the Church for baptized unmarried members. So, let’s talk about about “consent to venereal pleasure/acts”. What is forbidden for unmarried people is for them to voluntarily engage in sexual activity. It is forbidden for them to consent to it, both exteriorly and interiorly. This means that a person cannot express consent to fornication/adultery/sodomy/bestiality in order to save their life or that of other people. That would be sinful, because consenting to sexual activity with a person to whom one is not married is a sin.

We are called to refuse consent to solicitation. E.g. Alessandro ASKED St. Maria Goretti to have sex with him. He was trying to obtain her CONSENT to act in a manner contrary to chastity/virginity with him. She properly refused. This is our obligation! To refuse solicitation even if that means death or other negative reprecussions upon ourselves or our loved ones.

We cannot pretend that just because a gun or knife is threatening one’s person, that consent can be articulated or expressed, because we are obliged to refuse consent to sins against chastity. Again, this is a basic duty/obligation because we are obliged to witness to Christ even to the shedding of our blood.

Now, let’s take another example. Let’s say someone is physically overcome and raped. The victim is NOT consenting exteriorly or interiorly to the rape. The victim is still a virgin in the eyes of God and the Church. This is a big deal! It means that the Church doesn’t, like non-Catholic people do, attach undue importance to the hymen, but to formal virginity. This doesn’t mean that the physical sign of virginity in women isn’t normally the hymen, but it does say that our theology and understanding of virginity is more nuanced than for non-Catholics.

That being said, we have to avoid one danger, which is to say that to be a virgin, if one can be raped (or have surgery or exercise) cannot have any physical connection, that it must be only in the mind. The Church does not teach that. Rather, the Church teaches that two things must simultaneously happen for a person to stop being a virgin – consent to venereal pleasure/act (the act of the will) and the physical venereal act itself. So if the act happens but is not consented to (e.g. someone is raped) then that person continues to be a virgin because consent is absent.

What about surgical interventions or exercise affecting the hymen? Does a stretching or breaking of the hymen through these means make someone a non-virgin? The answer to this question is very simple. Surgical intervention does not involve willed sexual pleasure. Neither does exercise (in and of itself). Therefore, a person who has lost the hymenal membrane through surgery or exercise does not cease to be a virgin in the eyes of God or the Church.

Once virginity is lost through full consent to a (corporeal) venereal act, then it is lost forever. God Himself cannot restore it. Why? Because God is a God of truth. A person cannot “un-experience” what has been done. It has factually happened, and historically happened. Even if the physical membrane is surgically (or even miraculously) restored, the moral human act has still factually occurred. Hence, the push for some Evangelical Christians or Muslims to have surgery for their hymens has no bearing on their status as virgins or non-virgins in the eyes of God but can only help to avoid death or perceived disgrace by their future husbands.

Thus far, we’ve only discussed virgins in the first strict sense of the word. Now let’s look to the other sense in the Church’s vocabulary.

A person who #1 is a virgin and #2 decides to maintain lifelong virginity for the sake of the Kingdom in following Christ is either a dedicated virgin or a virgin-person with a consecration. The dedicated virgin is one who does this by private resolution (propositum), vow, intention, promise, or oath. Lay members of Societies of Apostolic Life or Personal Prelatures or other non-consecrated forms of consecrated life are dedicated virgins if they are, in fact, virgins. They are dedicated continent people if they are not virgins.

The consecrated person who is a virgin may be a member of the Order of Virgins or may be a virgin-member of a form of life which gives consecration to its members. Thus, a woman who is a virgin who belongs to a religious institute is a consecrated person who is a virgin. She is, however, not a member of the Order of Virgins even if she is a virgin because religious consecration is not a “consecration of virginity” or “consecrated virginity” in the strict sense, but is a consecration of a person vowed to the observance of the evangelical counsels, separated from the world, and in common life.

An eminent example of a virgin-religious who is not a “consecrated virgin” of the Order of Virgins is St. Thomas Aquinas. He was a virgin. He was a consecrated person by reason of religious consecration in the Dominican Order. But he is not what we are calling Brides of Christ/Consecrated Virgins of the Order of Virgins. It is a specific consecration given only to virgin-women that constitutes women in the Order of Virgins.

Juridic Virginity

This is the kind of virginity required for the consecration of virgins as brides of Christ. Until 1970, juridic virginity (and for a period of time, the absence of having been raped) was all that was required for eligibility for this solemn consecration or anointing. It denoted a woman who had never lost virginity by vaginal-penile sex. Victims of rape, though acknowledged by the Church as continuing to be virgins, were forbidden to receive the consecration for various reasons.

Now, the juridic virginity has been substituted by the 1970 Rite of Consecration of Virgins for the absence of non-public violations against chastity, and even more diluted by the Instruction Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago [ESI] with something amorphous or non-existent. What does this mean concretely?

Dr. Ed Peters, in his Studia Canonica article and brief recent article on ESI, lays out what the previous, present, and future requirements were/are/might be for women desirous of receiving the consecration of virgins. At the very least, juridic virginity meant absence of vaginal-penile intercourse. Some authors held that any act destructive of virginity was sufficient impediment [e.g. masturbation, oral sex, or lesbian sex] to the consecration. But one thing was absolutely clear, whether one held to a strict core minimum of “juridic virginity” as defined by the absence of consented vaginal-penal sex, or whether it was expanded to all consented-to venereal acts, both definitions for juridic virginity (for the purpose of admission to the consecration of virgins) required bodily continence!

What is bodily continence? In a highly restricted sense, continence is the willed absence of consented vaginal-penile intercourse. This is important because rape of a person, married or unmarried, does not constitute an act which deprives the victim of continence. Because, continence depends upon consent +corporeal venereal act! There are three kinds of continence. Virginal continence, widowed continence, and married continence. All three kinds of continence have one thing in common. An act, whether lawful or unlawful, of consented vaginal-penile intercourse, is an act against continence.

Whether one restricts the interpretation of the word continence to its strictest meaning of abstention from voluntary sexual intercourse, or one has a broader understanding of it as meaning the abstention from voluntary sexual acts not limited to but including sexual intercourse, an act against continence destroys both the state of virginity and the virtue of virginity (separate things) forever. The novelty of ESI consists of the fact that it no longer requires the state of juridic virginity (absence of penile-vaginal sex) as a juridic criterion for consecration. Rather, it appears to allow for juridic “chastity” instead. How is this?

If a body kept in perfect continence is rejected without any disclaimers as an “essential” pre requisite for the consecration of virgins, then the whole of the meaning of the term “continence” is rejected. In other words, acts against continence can be read in a restricted sense to mean just acts of voluntary vaginal sexual intercourse. But acts against continence can in some instances be read in a broader sense to mean “all voluntary sexual acts”, including vaginal intercourse. It doesn’t matter which definition is selected because both include vaginal-penile intercourse as part of the definition. If you do not explicitly reject vaginal-penile intercourse as being included in the term “continence”, then logically, you are including in the word and meaning. Thus, for ESI to reject continence as a requirement is for it to reject being a virgin (possessing juridic virginity) as a requirement, because all agree that continence is lost with intercourse (and not all agree that anything besides intercourse canonically breaks continence).

To clarify this, let’s reword the ESI sentence a bit to help illustrate this point. Reworked, there are two essentially plausible renditions:

  • #1 Continence, that is, the absence of voluntary vaginal-penile sexual intercourse, is no longer an essential pre-requisite for admission to the Order of Virgins.
  • #2 Continence, that is, the absence of both voluntary vaginal-penile sexual intercourse plus the absence of any other voluntary acts of venereal pleasure, is no longer an essential pre-requisite for admission to the Order of Virgins.

It should be noted that there is NO caveat or disclaimer or exception mentioned in ESI #88. It doesn’t say “continence, in the sense of acts proper to the married state aside from vaginal-penile intercourse”.   Thus, virginity, not even merely juridic virginity, is not a requirement for admission to the Order of Virgins according to the Instruction.[1]

To wrap up this portion of this article, it should be noted that the Church does not refer to virginity as merely a material or “physical state” of a person. Rather, virginity has to do with the absence of willed venereal pleasure. Thus, to claim that this passage in ESI is an acknowledgement of the ability of rape-victims to receive the consecration is rather baffling as rape does not destroy continence or virginity! More on this later.

To be continued…

[1] Yet, it appears, only specific sins against chastity qualify as impediments to the consecration according to the Instruction. (This is baffling because when there are restrictions, they are to be interpreted strictly and yet the blanket prohibition against external forum acts against chastity is in the Praenotanda – liturgical law of the Rite… which would trump any less restrictive interpretation given in the Instruction…)

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A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part I

Table of contents for A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics

  1. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part I
  2. A Primer On Chastity, Virginity, Continence for Catholics Part II

By Therese Ivers, JCL (JCD cand.)

With headlines carrying the shocking news that the Vatican “no longer requires virginity for virgins”, there has been a lot of controversy and angst stirred up amongst the Catholic community, particularly within the Order of Virgins. However, a calm look at the Church’s traditional teaching on virginity, and the practice of admitting certain women to the Order of Virgins should help in sifting through to the truth of the matter.

What has happened recently is that the Holy See has released an Instruction called Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago (Image of the Bridal Church). In it are contained explanations, exhortations, and advice concerning the Order of Virgins. An Instruction is considered to be a document which explains how the law of the Church is to be carried out or interpreted. It is not law itself, nor can it be more restrictive of rights than the law itself. For that reason, if there are conflicting parts between the law and the Instruction, such parts are automatically void by virtue of canon 34.[1]

In Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago is a very controversial paragraph. It is controversial because it introduces a novelty for the practice of consecrating women who are virgins into the Order of Virgins (Ordo Virginum), a group that has existed since the beginning of Christian virginity at the Annunciation. The paragraph, in #88, in the document which does not yet exist in Latin, the Church’s legal language, but which is consistently translated among the major languages in the vernacular reads as follows in English:

As a treasure of inestimable value that God pours into clay vessels (cf. 2?Cor 4:7), this vocation is truly an undeserved gift. It encounters the person in her actual humanity, always in need of redemption and yearning for the full meaning of her existence. It finds its origin and dynamic centre in the grace of God, who unceasingly acts with the tenderness and the strength of his merciful love in the often complex and sometimes contradictory events of human life, helping the person to grasp her uniqueness and the unity of her being, enabling her to make a total gift of self. In this context it should be kept in mind that the call to give witness to the Church’s virginal, spousal and fruitful love for Christ is not reducible to the symbol of physical integrity. Thus to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practised 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. [Emphasis added.]

Why is the paragraph problematic? It is because while it is true that the Church’s virginal, spousal and fruitful love cannot “be reducible to the symbol of physical integrity”, it does, as a matter of fact require the signification of virginity to be meaningful. However, this traditional criterion for women who desire to belong to the Ordo Virginum [“OV” or “OCV”] is removed by the last sentence which says that “Thus to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practiced the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way… are not essential prerequisites in the absence of which admittance to the consecration is not possible”. More simply put, after removing the double negative, “The pre-requisite for a body kept in perfect continence is no longer [an] essential [pre-requisite] for admission to the Order of Virgins.  Words have meaning and in this case, the word phrase “kept her body in perfect continence” has specific meaning in the Church.  As Dr. Peters so ably points out in both his short internet post (which cites his lengthy scholarly article in Studia Canonica), it is the denial of lifelong perfect continence as a pre-requisite that is hugely problematic.

The key to understanding the global-wide stir about this passage is extrinsically connected to the Church’s ancient custom of consecrating female virgins as Brides of Christ with a special spiritual anointing. This anointing creates Brides whose own nuptial bond reflects the Church’s own radiant virgin-spousal bond with Christ, the Son of God. Previously, at least “juridic virginity” was required for the reception of this anointing. Now, this document is denying that virginity is an essential requirement for women to receive this special anointing and spousal bond to Christ, which today takes place in a solemn liturgical ritual presided over by a bishop, which is an abrupt departure from 2018 years of tradition in the Catholic Church.

In part II, we shall provide a glossary of words like chastity, virginity, and continence, and explain how they relate to the consecration of virgins. There is too much confusion about virginity and that needs to be cleared up. In this section, however, it is probably a good idea to talk about WHY virginity is valued in the Catholic Church. Virginity is valued because it reflects the virginity of the Most Holy Trinity, the virginity of Christ and the virginity of the Church. [2]

For consecrated virgins, who are “living images” of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and who with the Church share the title “Bride of Christ”, St. Thomas Aquinas has some beautiful passages in his Sententiae:

Every sensible thing the Church uses has a spiritual significance. And since a single corporeal thing fails to represent adequately something spiritual, one spiritual reality may sometimes be represented by several corporeal signs. The spiritual marriage of Christ and the Church is fruitful, for by it the sons of God are given birth; it is pure, for as the Epistle to the Ephesians reads, “Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it,… that He might present to Himself, a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.”… For which reason, St. Paul writes (II Cor. II:2): “for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

Now bodily fruitfulness and virginity or integrity of the flesh are incompatible. Therefore two different signs are needed to represent the spiritual marriage of Christ and His Church, one to image its fruitfulness, the other to reflect its perfect purity or integrity.

Since on earth marriage represents the fruitfulness of the spiritual relationship between Christ and His church, another symbol is needed to typify its integrity. The veiling of virgins accomplishes this in all its words and ceremonies. Because of that fact, only bishops, into whose keeping the Church has been committed, can give virgins the veil, acting as the friend and proxy of the bridegroom. Further, the pure integrity of Christ’s union with the Church is symbolized perfectly by virginal continence but only imperfectly by the continence of widows. Therefore, although they too receive the veil, it is not given to them with the same solemnity.

It should be noticed that the spiritual marriage of Christ and the Church is signified by the virginity of the Church, “symbolized perfectly by virginal continence but only imperfectly by the continence of widows”. This is fully consonant with what the Church says in the Rite of Consecration of Virgins:

God himself is its source. It is he, infinitely pure and holy, who gives the grace of virginity. Those to whom he gives it are seen by the Fathers of the Church as images of the eternal and all-holy God.

When the fullness of time had come, the almighty Father showed, in the mystery of the Incarnation, his love for this great virtue. In the chaste womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Word was made flesh, in a marriage covenant uniting two natures, human and divine.

Our Lord himself taught us the high calling of such a life, consecrated to God and chosen for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven . By his whole life, and especially by his labors, his preaching, and, above all, by his Paschal Mystery, he brought his Church into being. He desired it to be a virgin, a bride, and a mother: a virgin, to keep the faith whole and entire; a bride, to be one with him forever; and a mother, to raise up the family of the Church.

The dignity of being a sacred virgin is to be anointed as a bride of Christ and symbolizing in her very body, the Church herself because her body has been kept in holy virginal continence. Now, if we re-examine the problematic sentence in Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, we see that according to this document, continence (virginal or widowed) is not essential for admission to the consecration. If that is the case, what possible value does the consecration of virgins have if it is conferred on non-virgins? The physical symbol has been removed and there is now nothing left. This is why this Instruction has produced shockwaves around the globe; the nature of the vocation has been removed, which means that whatever is deemed to be “consecrated virginity” no longer has any theological meaning or purpose if there is no longer an essential pre-requisite to keeping the body in perfect continence. Virginity and continence are inextricably connected with the body when practiced by humans. This shall be seen in Part II.


To be continued.



[1] Can. 34 §1. Instructions clarify the prescripts of laws and elaborate on and determine the methods to be observed in fulfilling them. They are given for the use of those whose duty it is to see that laws are executed and oblige them in the execution of the laws. Those who possess executive power legitimately issue such instructions within the limits of their competence.

  • 2. The ordinances of instructions do not derogate from laws. If these ordinances cannot be reconciled with the prescripts of laws, they lack all force.
  • 3. Instructions cease to have force not only by explicit or implicit revocation of the competent authority who issued them or of the superior of that authority but also by the cessation of the law for whose clarification or execution they were given.

[2] Cf. The Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity in the Roman Pontifical, #16; Virginity, by St. Gregory of Nyssa in chapters 1-2.

Therese Ivers is a member of the Order of Virgins, a canon lawyer, and perita on consecrated life by virtue of holding the diploma from the Vatican on the Theology and Law of Consecrated Life.  She is the president of the Society of American Virgins.

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Are Women Religious Being Exploited?

By Therese Ivers, JCL


An article recently appeared in the L’Osservatore Romano [Vatican newspaper] by Marie-Lucile Kubacki, about religious sisters in Rome being exploited in providing cooking, laundry, and housekeeping services for male Church officials.  Sisters, some with doctorates or licentiates in theology or other fields were being assigned to serve in menial positions for “random” “modest” or “no pay”.  The phrase “male Church officials”, used in an English report on this issue, in practice, denotes communities of male religious who often have a whole team of sisters dedicated to providing these services, as well as individual priests and prelates.

Not unexpectedly, another article appeared, whose author, Jeff Mirus, claimed to be “bemused and confused” about the claim of exploitation of women religious in Rome.  It was entitled Is It Wrong For Women Religious to Serve Priests and Bishops?  Of course, any person who celebrates the feast of St. Joseph the Worker knows that work is dignified and menial labor is dignified.   However, this is a trick question.  It is only acceptable for women religious to serve male religious and clergy if it is part of their official charism.  Apparently Mirus, who does not have “living in Rome for an extended period of time” in his bio, sees the articles against exploitation of women religious as an exaggerated “feminist” outcry.

Indeed, Mirus sees the services of doing the cooking, laundry, and housekeeping for “clergy” (he doesn’t realize that teams of religious sisters are often assigned to do the same for communities of their peers, non-ordained religious brothers) as opportunities for reducing ministry costs of clergy and for growing in humility!  This is shortsighted thinking.

What Mirus does not appear to appreciate is that the articles speak of many sisters not having proper labor contracts; hence, they are financially vulnerable. They are often not paid even if they or their communities desperately need funds.  This is not Catholic social justice in action; it is exploitation.  Further, it may be true that the salary a cleric receives will not be greatly diminished by free or cheap labor, but the cleric is given a reliable salary, which is supposed to include sufficient funds for decent living.

Housekeeping services are part of the salary equation for many clergymen, particularly if they live in spacious rectories with a lot of shared common space. Little or no pay means that there is true exploitation of women’s labor on the part of the male cleric.  The exploitation is not limited to simply the woman/women religious and their own religious communities.  It extends to the local Church, who, by their donations, are supporting the women religious to do something which is often contrary to their stated charism!  Would rightly thinking lay and ordained faithful be so quick to donate to women religious communities if they knew that a portion of the members were being siphoned off from their stated mission to be underpaid or unpaid servants to religious brothers and clergy?

Unlike Mirus, I have personally witnessed vast numbers of women religious being exploited in Italy.  I have seen religious sisters scrubbing toilets and cooking for male religious communities or individual clergymen.  For the vast majority, it was historically accomplished by a sympathetic superior helping out a busy cleric or a religious community of men despite the fact that the charism did not support this type of work.  A teaching or nursing community has no business scrubbing the toilets of male religious communities!  This isn’t a matter of menial labor being “unsuitable”, but the context is wrong.  It is wrong for a community with a stated charism that does not include menial labor for the personal benefit of male Church officials to assign sisters to do just that.

Furthermore, there must be consideration of jeopardy to the promise/vow of chastity on the part of both male clergy and religious and on the part of the vowed women providing these services. There is no need to expound on this point. Young religious women should not be working in the private quarters of men. Parish priests are not supposed to have live-in housekeepers unless they are of mature age. Barring advanced age or disability, men should take a little time to maintain their own quarters. This is a part of normal living, and the exercise will be good for their health.

This exploitative practice needs to end. It impoverishes communities of religious women. It helps men to entertain an attitude of entitlement.  Yes, I have personally heard or participated in conversations where religious communities of men felt entitled to free housekeeping services from religious women.  This custom also fosters an attitude of superiority, where men can overlook the intellectual abilities of religious women because they only see them engaged in menial tasks. Both major superiors and superiors of individual houses need to stand up for their rights and either demand labor contracts with proper pay if these services are within their declared charism or refuse to delegate sisters to provide this work.

If it is true that, as Mirus states, cooking, doing the personal dirty laundry of the men, and cleaning can engender humility in religious women, why can’t it work the same way for men?  Why can’t men pick up a broom or do their laundry or take a hand in the kitchen?  If doing a spot of manual labor is not deemed part of a healthy balance in life for men, who should not be doing simply white collar intellectual work to keep physically fit, why can’t lay people be hired at just wages?  If “recruits”, as he labels postulants or novices, can be redirected to these “humble” tasks, why not do the same for male “recruits” at seminaries? Oh wait. There’s actually a purpose for the seminary and novitiate! Strange that it does not include providing housekeeping to busy male religious or clerics as an integral part of the formation program.

One possible response to the existing exploitation is for the Vatican to insist that religious strictly follow their charisms.  This may lead to a widespread withdrawal from the downstairs crew comprised of religious sisters.  Another solution would be to amend the constitutions of the religious congregations to reflect “service to male religious and clerics” as part of their charism.  Of course, one wonders why no male religious community of brothers has written “service to female religious communities” as part of their charism.  Or, a devout woman may feel impelled to start a community dedicated solely to providing menial services to religious males and clergy.  To my knowledge, no community has this as its specific and sole charism.  There is a community I have encountered that has as part of its charism helping out diocesan clergy as needed, which may include housekeeping.

Let us pray that an equitable solution be found.

Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV

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