I was glad, just before Christmas, when the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate vigorously defended themselves against the Commissioner's vague but nasty accusation that their leading members had 'distorted' the charism of their order and had had an improper influence over the male branch of the order. It reminded me of how, in the early days of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England, enemies of Catholicism criticised Dr Pusey for being too much influenced by Mother Sellon.
Throughout the history of the Church, strong, holy, orthodox and intelligent women have played decisive roles. In English Church history, we think of S Hilda. In the history of the Papacy, S Bridget was a crucial influence in its return to Rome from Avignon. Foundresses of religious orders have had influence far beyond their own orders. Recent work in Recusant history has demonstrated the powerful parts played by the married women who in fact maintained, organised, and defended persecuted Catholic groups centred upon the gentry houses of seventeenth century England.
It would be quite preposterous to exclude women religious from the fullest part in the evolution of the charisms and ethos of their orders. Half the world's population, and perhaps rather more than half its religious, are female. There is something distinctly unpleasant in attempts to marginalise or denigrate them or to restrict their influence.
We have all met the sort of inadequate men who have problems coping with women, and especially with intelligent women. Perhaps this could be one of the problems with the small group which has precipitated the onslaught upon the Franciscans of the Immaculate. If so, these men should be eliminated from positions of influence and offered counselling. Meanwhile, there should be an end to threats to place the Sisters under the authority of the Commissioner.
Come to think of it, perhaps the Big Solution would be to put the Friars under a Commissioneress. That might teach the malcontents a lesson or two.