In the event that a woman religious becomes pregnant, several things must be considered. The first thing is always the welfare of the child, regardless of how he or she was conceived. The mother must deliver the baby. The religious community must pay the bills and provide for the financial support of that child’s situation is secure. We do not throw babies into the world to fend for themselves or abandon them at the doorstep of the welfare system.
If the mother wishes to keep the baby, she would have to ask for a dispensation, which would be granted, because her obligations as a mother trump her obligations to the religious life.
Should the mother choose to put the child up for adoption, then we move on to the next question, which is important in determining what to do with the woman religious. Now, you have secured the child’s welfare by finding him or her adoptive parents. You can now deal with the biological mother.
Obviously, if the mother was raped, she is not culpable of any wrong doing. The next question is how much and what kind of support is she going to need. The religious community has the moral obligation to provide it. PTSD is as valid an illness as diabetes. We don’t dismiss women religious for developing diabetes.
If the mother conceived by engaging in illicit relationships, that becomes a whole other question. The Major Superior, with the aid of her council, has to determine the degree of the violation.
Are we talking about an isolated event?
Is this a pattern of behavior?
If it is a pattern, is this behavior a pathology or true promiscuity?
Is the mother involved in a relationship with someone?
Is she willing to terminate this relationship?
The answers to all of these question will help the Major Superior determine if dismissal it appropriate, sending the person to a place where she can live a life of penance, offer her professional psychiatric and psychological support, or offer her the option of requesting a dispensation on her own, which the Major Superior would support so that when the request reaches the Holy See it carries more weight, because it comes the testimony of the Major Superior stating that this is the greater good.
At the end of the day, the Major Superior must decide what is the greater good for the child, individual, the community and the Church, in that order. Remember, the Major Superior is not the pope. Her role is to protect the innocent child, then her sisters and her community. If she does this well, she will then be serving the Church. It is when the major superior does not do this well and does not ask the right questions that the child and mother are hurt, which in the long run also hurts the community and the Church.
There is no prefabricated answer to this and that’s why you will not find it in Canon Law. What you will find in Canon Law are the rights and duties of religious and the rights and duties of superiors. If each party exercises his rights and duties as determined by the Church, these things should rarely happen and if they happen, then you have guidance on how to address them.
To the best of my knowledge, the only crimes for which the Church says that you must be dismissed are: if you procure an abortion, if you sexually abuse a minor, and if you align yourself with any group that is schismatic or is in irregular status with the Church. Even in the latter case, the superior has to counsel you first, then command you to withdraw your association with said group (in writing).
Aside from what the Church recommends as procedures, the religious community may have procedures and regulations in its constitutions. As long as these are not in conflict with Church Law, the community can follow them. There are going to be slight differences in the process, but goals are universal.
a. The welfare of the child.
b. The welfare of the individual religious.
c. The welfare of the religious community.
d. The welfare of the universal church.
They can’t really be neatly separated so neatly. They are interlinked like the Olympic rings.
Br. JR, OSF :christmastree1: