Can someone change religious communities?

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Saturday 09, April 2011 | Category:  
If you are in a particular religious order or community, can you switch to another or are you “stuck”? —Mike B.

The simple answer to your question is: Yes, a person who is a member of a religious community or order can transfer to another community or order. Here are a few other considerations that arise with this question.

First, if the person happens to still be in first (or temporary) vows or is not yet vowed, she or he can leave freely because they are not yet full members of the community. Such leaving, however, is undertaken with much discernment, prayer, and conversation. The person must also faithfully tend to any responsibilities and relationships that have been established.

Second, the decision of a full member, someone who has professed final vows, to leave her or his community and, in some cases, join another community is a serious situation. This process is not engaged in lightly and is a time of great discernment, prayer, and conversation for both the individual and the community. After all, final vows means for life, not “for as long as I feel like it” or “’till something better comes along.” That being said, serious reasons do arise when a person can legitimately no longer live as a member of a particular community. These reasons are for the person and the leadership of the community to discern and are later witnessed by Rome for the valid dispensation from vows or transfer of vows.

Third, no religious community wants a person to feel “stuck” with them. On the contrary, religious communities want the very best for their members—to be free to love and serve God and God’s mission with other women or men who share the same vision. The community is built on real relationships and is not simply a structure within which one lives out one’s commitment for better or for worse. The pain of one member who feels “stuck” affects the whole of the community and must be tended to if the community and the individual are to be healthy and vibrant.

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