The book contributes to our understanding of Catholic consecrated life in the North America. It surveys three regional congregations or institutes, two male and one female. The authors gathered data from both the actual members and former members, as in the controversial study of American Jesuits, Passionate Uncertainty (2002). They traced the evolution of consecrated life since Vatican II. They show how deep and sometimes dramatic these changes were for both, individuals and institutions.
One purpose of this study is to foresee the direction of this evolution beyond the stereotypes of secularization theory or religious crisis, pointing to the transformation of religious institutions through new ministries in the Catholic Church. The book describes the process followed from a stable and well ordered structure to a more dynamic and unpredictable one, after the big changes in the mid 1970s. In their testimonies, interviewers recall their formation years, the routines they followed, the needed adjustments, and the many difficulties they met as they went from a rigid routine, where everything was structured, to a more open and free way of life. The new model brought confusion and perplexity, and, as a result, many religious were unable to adapt and moved out.
This research tries to explain the reasons for staying and leaving. In comparing the two, it appears that those leaving came from a less stable background (p. 26). Another variable is the educational level of the fathers: perseverance in religious life is negatively related to the father’s educational attainment. Less significant is the age when entering religious life; a younger age at entry tends to predict earlier exits (p. 57).
The survey also looks at the formative years. Here a pattern arises: academic studies, even when pursued in a spirit of obedience and conformity, produced a critical mentality that later subverted that submissive mentality. The main reason for leaving is the problem of celibacy; conflicts with superiors, burnouts, and a liberal ideology also played a role. The authors highlight the fact that many among the ex-religious are now devoted lay ministers; therefore they find some accommodation within the Church, which is less traumatic than in former times.
This book tries to understand the problems of these ex-religious and their possibilities for the Church, assessing their good spiritual health, rather than suggest ways to prevent or stop the present hemorrhage taking place in all congregations. The survey helps us understand the dynamic evolution of consecrated life in the last 50 years, in order to know how to deal with those who have left, but also to cope with the present crisis.