What Happens to a Nun if She Gets Pregnant?

I know that Catholic nuns and other women religious often come from very different religious communities and orders, but generally speaking, what happens to a nun or woman religious when she becomes pregnant?

Does it matter if she was raped or otherwise forced to conceive?
Can she expect much help from the Church?
Will she probably be asked to leave her order?

This came to me as was thinking about the priest abuse scandal, where the Catholic bishops often went above and beyond (decency) to protect these sexually misbehaving priests, and I was wondering if nuns could count on similar support.

I would think the biggest factors in what would happen to her would depend on if she was raped or not as well as the order she is in. From my understanding if she was raped she could leave the order for a bit, give the child up for adoption and then return. If she chose to raise the child she would of course have to leave, I am not sure what kind of support she would get from her order, however the Church would be willing to help her in any way we could I am sure.

Now if she was not raped, I believe but am not 100% sure, that she would have to leave the order at that point. In that case I am sure she would still get some help, but I don’t think it would be as much as the woman in the other case. It is possible that she would be able to stay in the order if she gave the child up for adoption, however in that case the Mother of the order and the local Bishop would decide that on a case by case basis.

Sorry I do not have more exact answers, but the truth is it is not a common problem. Although I am sure some nuns do get raped, I am betting the numbers are very low, and of course most woman who are raped do not become pregnant from it. I also bet that the numbers who have sex while in an order are very low. In many cases they just do not have an opportunity to, and in most others they will decide to leave the order long before they decide to have sex.

Hope that helps.

Pax :signofcross:

I would think she would have to leave the order she is in. Just like when I went to catholic high school, If the girl got pregnant, she had to leave the school!

And with your spirit


My information may be suspect. I’ve spent the last hour searching online for the books that I originally read for this information, but they were all published more than 20 years ago and I can’t find the exact citations, only my memories.

For nuns who were raped, this was an issue in the 60’s, with nuns working in missions where revolutions were occurring. The children that resulted from these rapes were placed for adoption, and the nuns were accepted back into their orders, although some asked for and received laicization.

There was a book I read in the mid-70’s where the author, in reaction to all the stories about priests leaving their ministry, found and interviewed five American priests who, after a crisis of faith, stayed. In one interview, the priest’s crisis came after a school function. One of the sisters at the school was undergoing chemotherapy, and he offered to drive her back to the convent. They got into his car, but before they could drive off they were carjacked (although the term didn’t exist at the time.) He was pulled from the car and beaten so severely that he wound up in the hospital; she was driven to a remote area and gang-raped. In the hospital afterward, the bishop came and visited the priest, but not the nun (who was on a different floor in the same hospital). She did not become pregnant, but was effectively abandoned by the diocese, and eventually became laicized.

In general, those who become pregnant must give up their children for adoption. If they were raped, they receive counseling and are encouraged to stay in their order. If they became pregnant due to consensual sex, if they wish to keep the child they have to leave the order; if they give up the child for adoption they must go through a period of penance and discernment regarding their vocation.

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:

Catholics just implemented a new translation of the Latin used in the Mass. For decades, the priest would say, “The Lord be with you” and the people would reply “And also with you”; now we are supposed to say “And with your spirit.” To be honest, I have yet to EVER make the correct response, even when I’m reading from the cheat sheet they have in the pews – the habitual response is so deeply ingrained.

Did you want to post this comment on this thread?


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

Just trying to clear up the obvious confusion expressed by the person in post #4.