A top Vatican cardinal complained on Thursday that members of Catholic religious congregations are perceived as worldlier, less obedient and increasingly reluctant to wear a cassock due to the influence of secular values.
Absorbing the values of western society, many religious are also less and less interested in prayer and community living and more interested in personal freedom, said Cardinal Franc Rodé, Prefect of Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, said in a conversation with ANSA.
"A drift towards bourgeois values and moral relativism are the two great dangers that weaken religious life," said Rodé, who heads the Vatican Dicastery which is in charge of monks, nuns and priests not attached to parishes.
The often-cited fall in vocations to the priesthood was actually not the main worry, the Slovenian prelate continued, noting that in 2006 vocations fell only 0.7%.
"The biggest problem today is the climate of secularization present not only in western society but also within the Church itself," he said. Without citing any names or specific episodes, Rodé listed a number of ways in which this change was visible among priests and members of religious communities.
They were: "Freedom without constraints, a weak sense of the family, a worldly spirit, low visibility of religious clothing, a devaluation of prayer, insufficient community life and a weak sense of obedience".
During the almost 27 years of Pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the number of religious has dropped 25%, expanding the gap between men and women religious, with male religious orders being the most affected by the decline.
"Today, many more young people are attracted to contemplative communities because it is a radical life choice." "Far more attractive today is the person who commits to a life of faith 'sine glossa' (without footnotes,) as we used to say in the past," he noted.
According to official statistics from 2006, there are 196,473 members of male religious congregations, out of which 137,058 are priests and 55,030 are religious brothers. Female religious make up a much larger group with 836,091 in their ranks.
"Religious life plays a key role in the Church, especially in the world of education and charity," Cardinal Rodé concluded.