Monastery of the Saint Désert, January 5th 2021
The Sisters of the monastic Family of Bethlehem implement a “Cell of Listening”
and emphasize their path of conversion
Since 2017, the Sisters of Bethlehem have continued a path of conversion according to the directions given them by the Dicastery for Consecrated Life following the Apostolic Visit initiated in 2015. The permanent council of the monastic sisters, composed of the new prioress general, six sisters counselors nominated by Rome, and the apostolic assistants who conducted visits of the monasteries in France and Israel, Father Jean Quris (Diocese of Angers) and Mother Geneviève (OSB), is determined to move forward in this work of truth and reform.
This path has gone through a progressive and sorrowful realization of the consequences experienced by certain sisters of a conception of authority either idealized or founded on an erroneous understanding of monastic obedience, leading to abuses of authority or of conscience and to affective dependency.
Sister Emmanuel, the current prioress general, and the sisters of the permanent council, have listened to some sisters who have left. In the name of their community, they want to say how much they have become aware of the extent of the wounds and deep traumas provoked by such dysfunctionality. They are aware that for many, their self-esteem, their free will, and their relationship of trust with the Church necessitate a difficult and slow recovery. Sister Emmanuel and the permanent council are extremely sorry and ask forgiveness.
In order to improve the welcome of and to better hear those who have been wounded, and to take into account the complaints according to the requirements of truth and justice, the permanent council of the monastic sisters is implementing an independent “cell of listening”. This cell is composed of two psychologist experts in these matters, a Benedictine father abbot emeritus, a Benedictine monastic sister, a retired magistrate judge and a lawyer also trained in canon law. This “cell of listening” is charged with gathering the testimonies received, recommending to the permanent council the follow-up in order to render justice to the victims, and issuing recommendations for the pursuit of the council’s reform efforts.
The “cell of listening” can be reached at: cellule.ecoute.FMB@gmail.com
Following the conclusions of the apostolic visit, a path of conversion has been initiated and advances have already been made in the past years. The service of authority is maturing progressively thanks to the exercise of collegiality, as much for the prioress general as for the local prioresses. The local chapters and the councils have recovered their role of consultation and decision-making, especially in the steps of admission and engagement of sisters for profession.
Since 2017, sessions for prioresses and vicars have taken place with the help of outside speakers (theologians, psychologists, monks), and have been enlightened by the final texts of the Magisterium and those of the CORREF, along with the testimonies of wounded persons. These meetings have allowed developments especially in a better circulation of speech and information within and between monasteries, in the more attentive discernment and accompaniment of vocations, in the possibility to call for an outside person for accompaniment. Moreover, these sessions have been occasions to advance a reflection on the correct manner to exercise authority and to live obedience, in view of the person’s growth in Christ.
The last meeting of prioresses that took place in November 2020, with the help of the apostolic assistants and of Anne Lannegrace, a psychologist and psychoanalyst, has marked an important step in the awareness of the prioresses on the way to exercise the service of authority. At the end of this session, the prioresses have expressed their consent for this press release, for the implementation of the “cell of listening”, and have manifested their determination to go to the end of this way of conversion which will take effect in the next constitutions.
The monasteries have been involved in this process since 2017, first of all by receiving the points raised by the Dicastery following the visit, then through the work of revising the constitutions of the Family of Bethlehem as requested by the Congregation of Religious.
In order to accompany this work of revising the constitutions, the Dicastery has named two counselors, in particular for canonical questions, Father Dumortier (SJ) and Father Toxé (OP). This work is being done in regular consultation with the perpetually professed sisters, allowing reflections and exchanges in a healthy freedom of expression, and an awareness of the practices that need to be corrected. The final texts will be submitted to a vote at the next General Chapter of the monastic sisters planned for 2021 and then the final texts will be submitted to Rome for approval. They will thus become the reference texts for the Sisters of Bethlehem.
All these steps are lived in communion with the brothers of the Monastic Family of Bethlehem and their apostolic assistant, and in close connection with the Dicastery for Consecrated Life (CIVCSVA)
According to sister Emmanuel, the prioress general, “We are aware that this work requires time, patience, and perseverance. The establishment of the “cell of listening” answers our deep desire to do the work of justice and reparation for the persons who have been wounded in the heart of our Family and to ask forgiveness. Our commitment to this path is total; our last council of prioresses marked an important step in this path and we are determined to go to the end. Despite all our mistakes and faults, we also know the Love of God, and the deep joy that we find following Christ in our monastic vocation. It is our responsibility to purify what still needs it so that the evangelical life according to the Spirit may be fully unfurled. Our hope for the future of our Family is fortified by the repeated encouragement of the Dicastery who has told us over and over again the value of the charism proper to our monastic Family, of which the assistants are also witnesses.”
In November, the apostolic assistants addressed the prioresses in these terms: “The time has come for a clear acknowledgement of the mistakes and faults of the past, so that the charism that you have received may be fully lived. Like any charism, it has something unique and precious to bring to the Church. The path that we have lived with you for over five years has convinced us of this.”
The branch of the sisters of the Monastic Family of Bethlehem was founded in 1950 and consists of around 550 sisters in 29 monasteries in 15 countries. They live a monastic life offered up in adoration of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity in silence, solitude, fraternal communion, liturgy, and labor.
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