A new Vatican document sparked ire among consecrated virgins with a ruling that virginity is no longer a prerequisite to become a “Bride of Christ.”
The document, Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, published by the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life on July 4, serves as a new instructional concerning consecrated virginity.
The instructional clarifies that while physical virginity and chastity are important aspects of the life of a “bride of Christ,” they are not prerequisites to the extent that, if unmet, would absolutely disqualify a woman from being consecrated as one.
“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.
“Thus, to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practised 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 document reads.
“Brides of Christ” are consecrated virgins who, like nuns, are unmarried and offer their physical virginity as a sign of the total surrender of their selves to Christ.
Unlike nuns, however, they do not live in convents and typically work and provide for themselves.
There are approximately 5,000 consecrated virgins in 42 countries, with most residing in Argentina, France, and Italy, according to The Guardian.
In reaction, Brides of Christ who led lives of physical virginity lambasted the new instructional from the Vatican, calling it “disappointing” and “shocking.”
The U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins said Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago is “deeply disappointing in its denial of integral virginity as the essential and natural foundation of the vocation.”
“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,” the statement added, according to The Guardian.
The USACV clarified that while some may interpret the new instructional to say that rape victims are still eligible for consecrated virginity, that has been the case since before the publication of Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago.
They also asserted that if that was the intended message, the document could have directly addressed that issue.
With regard to women who voluntarily lose their virginity, the USACV asserted that such women can offer themselves as a gift to Christ, but they cannot be consecrated virgins.
“When a virgin offers her virginity to Christ, she offers her integral virginity – physical and spiritual.
“A woman who does not have the gift of virginity to offer may offer a complete gift of self to Christ, but she is not offering a gift of virginity,” the USACV wrote.
“A gift of one’s integral virginity to Christ is a gift of both body and spirit, and one cannot offer to Christ what one does not have to offer.”