The Thinking 

Out of the Convent and Into the Cultural Revolution

April 29, 2012


IN 1966, Pope Paul VI urged all Catholics who had taken religious vows to “to examine and renew their way of life and towards that end to engage in wide-ranging experimentation.” The wide-ranging experimentation that ensued was a full-blown disaster.

Thousands of nuns picked up and left. Many more who might have taken vows, never did. Over the course of the next four decades, the total number of women religious dropped by more than two thirds. With the abandonment of the traditional habit, the mystical threads fell away. Shorn of their ceremonial dress, nuns became distinguishable by their manly haircuts and bustling efficiency. They became social workers and political activists. Lesbianism and feminism swept through convents. These led, after interminable delay, to recent disciplinary measures by the Vatican against the largest organization of women religious, as discussed in the previous post.

Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow were the leading proponents of “third force psychology” in the 60s. Maslow said in 1949, “I can report empirically the healthiest persons in our culture … are most (not least) pagan, most (not least) instinctive, most (not least ) accepting of their animal nature.” In his book Libido Dominandi: Sexual Liberation and Poltical Control, E. Michael Jones describes the role of the self-actualizing theories of Rogers, Maslow and others on women religious.

Jones writes:

In 1965, Carl Rogers began circulating a paper entitled “The Process of the Basic Encounter Group” to some religious orders in the Los Angeles area. One group which found his ideas intriguing was the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This should not be surprising because the California-based IHM nuns had already established the reputation of being “innovative.” In the early ‘60s, Sister Aloyse, the order’s superior, had brought in the Dutch psychologist-priest Adrian van Kaam for retreat exercises during which “all community rules were suspended” (Weber, p. 419). The results of this sort of innovation were predictable. After allowing the psychologists in, the nuns became aware of “how dictatorial superiors were and in turn how dependent, submissive and helpless nuns were when it came to working with the outside world” (Weber, p. 419).

…. By the time the experiment was over, the order would cease to exist, leaving subsequent generations to puzzle over an incident which had become a classic instance of renewal gone wrong in the aftermath of Vatican II.

Jones later writes:

One member of that generation who had decided to become an Immaculate Heart nun was Jeanne Cordova. Cordova graduated from high school in the spring of 1966, and on a sunny September 6, 1966 she and four of her nine brothers and sisters drove up to the novitiate in Santa Barbara where she was to begin her life as a nun.

On January 1, 1967, Jeanne Cordova was called into the mother’s superior’s office and told that she and her fellow novices were being sent to live in the “real world,” which, in this instance, meant a building surrounded by chainlink fence and barbed wire in downtown Los Angeles near skid row, where Cordova would lie awake at night, watching the pulsing red light on top of Los Angeles city hall and wonder what had happened to her and the convent she had chosen in lieu of this “real world.” Cordova arrived at the novitiate expecting something different from what she eventually got. Her bitterness at what amounted to bait and switch tactics (even if perpetrated inadvertently) was still palpable 20 years later.

They promised me monastic robes, glorious Latin liturgy, the protection of the three sacred vows, the peace of saints in a quiet cell, the sisterhood of a holy family. But I entered religious life the year John XXIII [sic] was taking it apart: 1966. The fathers of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church were sitting at the Vatican Council destroying in the name of CHANGE, my dreams. Delete Latin ritual. Dump the habit. Damn holy obedience. Send nuns and priests out into the REAL world. If I had wanted the real world, I’d have stayed in it. (Curb & Manahan, p. 3)

As part of her entry into the real world, Cordova was enrolled at Immaculate Heart College, the flagship school of the order, where she was subjected to Rogers’ Education Innovation Project first hand through sensitivity training and second hand through the teachers who had also taken the sensitivity training. Perhaps no one epitomized the new nun better than “famous people like Sister Corita [Kent]” an artist nun who was famous for her graffiti-inspired paintings which illustrated passages from the Bible, like the Beatitudes in updated language, e.g., Happy the poor in spirit, instead of the more traditional term “Blessed.” Cordova remembers one art course in which she and other nuns were required to run across the tops of desks while dabbing paint onto canvases. She remembers being told that in doing this she and the other nuns were “expressing ourselves.” She also remembers taking a course with Sister Richard, “a great brain in philosophy,” who “tied the sacrament of baptism in with the order of the cosmos.”

Disoriented, Cordova eventually became a lesbian and political activist:

I harnessed my anger into love for gays as an oppressed people. My bitterness demands the straight world to move over and accept our rights. I have learned that my anger takes me where others are afraid to go and that outrage is good in the eyes of whatever Higher Power gives us righteous, if misguided, anger to protect us (p. 14).

Many others followed suit. While the homosexuality unleashed among priests by therepeutic thinking led to criminal pedophilia, it also wrecked the lives of a significant minority of women religious. Jones argues that the human potential movement inspired by Rogers, Maslow and others was part of conscious psychological warfare against American Catholics by powerful WASP figures. I find this aspect of his thesis unconvincing. No one forced Catholics to embrace an alternate faith.


— Comments —

Jeff W. writes:

Abraham Maslow was not a powerful WASP figure. According to Wikipedia, “His parents were first generation Jewish immigrants from Russia.”

 I put Maslow in a class with Freud and Marx: Jews who were trying to destroy Christianity.

Laura writes:

Yes, Jones was referring to others who used the theories of Maslow and Rogers. The way I worded it was unclear.

A reader writes:

Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope is a recent order that uses the full habit. The founder, Rosalind Moss, wrote in 2009:

It was in the 1960s. I was young, single, Jewish, and on my own in New York. The headline shot through me like an arrow aimed straight at my heart: “Nuns have received permission to shorten their habits to knee length.” … (T)he news item wasn’t limited to newspapers alone. It aired over local radio. And it went through me as if it were my news, and my loss.

What had nuns’ habits to do with me? Nothing. I was Jewish. I had been taught from childhood that there were basically two kinds of people in this world: Jewish and non-Jewish. So what had these ladies in long black habits to do with me? They were foreign to my world. Yet I knew that, whoever they were, they were in the world to affect the world for God. But, alas, I thought, the world has affected them.

What a deep sadness came over me. It was right at the start of the miniskirt era, and I supposed the shortened hemlines were a religious accommodation to the fashion, or, at least, to the increasingly self-focused leanings of the day. Somehow I felt robbed of what was never mine to begin with.

Paul writes:

Rosalind Moss was a wonderful regular on EWTN before my lousy cable company made it a premium station in the face of the hugely expensive ESPN channels that I still get for no increase. So I stopped watching, although I could catch it on the Internet. I just don’t have the time anymore even to watch ESPN unless there is a game, a practice I had not long after EWTN was eliminated.

Share:Email this to someoneShare on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest0Share on Google+0