Benedictine center abandons Catholic identity

.- The St. Benedict Center, a Benedictine ecumenical community in Madison for the past 40 years, has chosen to end its ties to the Roman Catholic Church in order to live out more comfortably its ecumenical character.

The prioress, Sr. Mary David Walgenbach, told the Wisconsin State Journal that there are several reasons for the change, one of which is that the order started accepting Protestant members several years ago.

The 67-year-old sister said the Sisters of St. Benedict petitioned the Vatican for dispensation from their vows as a Catholic religious order and that the request was granted. The order will now be called the Benedictine Women of Madison.

"We didn't want our non-Catholic sisters to have second-class status," she told the newspaper. Rev. Lynn Smith, a Presbyterian clergywoman, took her final vows to become a member of the order in 2004.

The prioress said the center, with members from several Christian denominations, will now function as an ecumenical community, similar to Taizé in France, under its new name, Holy Wisdom Monastery. All members will retain their individual religious affiliations.

Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison wished the women well, but is cautious about the future of the monastery.  "Such experimental endeavors can bear great fruit for the Church, such as the monastery at Taizé (France)," he wrote in a June 26 letter to his priests. "But there are very few other success stories worldwide, and thus our prayers and good wishes are all the more important."

The bishop approved the changes, but he requested that the monastery no longer have Catholic Mass celebrated at the center and that the Eucharist no longer be reserved in the chapel.

He said Catholic adults are free to go to the center, but added that it would not be suitable for young people or catechumens. Young people, he said, need to be well grounded in their own Catholic faith in order to have a foundation from which they can participate in ecumenical activities.

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