Catholic women who made a lifelong commitment to preserve virginity, the so-called “brides of Christ,” have been shocked at a newly released Vatican statement that suggests literal virginity is not an absolute requirement for their consecration, The Guardian reported.
Last month, the Vatican issued a 39-page document upon request from bishops who reported an increasing number of women joining “brides of Christ” ranks, comprising unmarried women who symbolically gift their physical virginity to Christ, dedicating time to prayer and penance but unlike nuns, living at their homes and having regular jobs. The origins of the group go back far beyond the Middle Ages, and the name “bride of Christ” is borrowed from the Bible's Old Testament.
The document, which essentially advised up to two years’ preparation for the religious vocation, stated in black and white that literal virginity is no prerequisite for that.
“The call to give witness to the church’s virginal, spousal and fruitful love for Christ is not reducible to the symbol of physical integrity,” the instruction stated, adding:
“Thus to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practiced the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way, while of great importance with regard to the discernment, are not essential prerequisites in the absence of which admittance to consecration is not possible.”
The latter passage instantly touched a raw nerve with a number of female Catholics, with the US Association of Consecrated Virgins, reportedly comprising 235 members across the country, coming up with an emotional statement of “deep disappointment.”
“It is shocking to hear from Mother Church that physical virginity may no longer be considered an essential prerequisite for consecration to a life of virginity,” it said.
There are an estimated 5,000 consecrated virgins in at least 42 countries around the world, with the largest numbers in France, Italy and Argentina.