The Single Vocation:
Why It's A Lie

May 19, 2016

Msgr. Charles A. Pope of my archdiocese did the church a great service when, on May 26, 2015, he posted There a Vocation to the Single Life? I think Not and Here's Why (1) in an Archdiocese of Washington blog.

It was way past due for someone who has respect and an audience to question so-called "single vocations" which Catholics now accept as legitimate.

Some points that Msgr. Pope makes:

Unlike those who marry or who are ordained, single people make no "promises and vows," they do not live in community or under a rule. Actually, some single people do make "vows" and "promises," call themselves "consecrated" and even live in communities. Below I will explain why their "vocations" are still bogus.

For those who claim that a single vocation frees them to devote their lives to missionary work or teaching CCD, Msgr. Pope answers that the work itself, not the state, is the vocation.

But Monsignor clinches his argument by reminding his readers of the "nuptial meaning of the body," (right from Pope St. John Paul's Theology of The Body):

The nuptial meaning of the body is that within its physical structure is inscribed the truth that we are made for others. Our body says, "I was made for a spouse of the opposite sex to complete me and render me fertile." Speaking of a human being as single, and certainly speaking of there being a call to be single, would tend to violate this understanding of the human person.

Let's pause here and consider. If our bodies are made for spouses to complete, then being single is a defective state. Being single is a state that not everyone can help. It is not a sin, but being single, denying the body's nuptial meaning, is not something that can be sanctified.

So much for the simple "single vocation" which attempts to sanctify the denial of the body's nuptial meaning. Msgr. Pope then explains that priests and religious express nuptial meaning by "wedding the church." Priests are actually the grooms of the church. Sisters are the brides of Christ.

Does this mean that one can sanctify a single vocation by declaring oneself "a bride of Christ?" Unfortunately many in the church, encouraged by cults that I will describe below, encourage the idea that women can be brides of Christ or "consecrated" without living like sisters.

Going forward (and leaving Msgr. Pope behind) I will use "single vocation"/"consecrated (virginity)" interchangeably. Out of consideration for good, well-meaning people who are members, I will refer to cults as "parallel churches."

Let me interject here that single vocations/"consecrated virginity" are claimed mostly by women. There are men who claim them, but show me a guy who is convinced he has a single vocation and isn't heading for the seminary and I'll show you a guy who's a real dream date.

As for attempting to sanctify the single vocation by calling it "consecrated:"

1) The "consecration" may or may not actually be consecration. The Catechism of The Catholic Church (CCC) 923 says that virgins are "consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop." That is, the bishop consecrates them when they make vows before him and him alone. The aforementioned parallel churches have been known to play fast and loose with the terms "consecration" and "vows."

2) Even if the consecration by a bishop is legitimate, there is still a huge problem with people who claim to be "brides of Christ" as sisters do, or "grooms of the Church" as priests do, but who do not live out their so-called vocations as proper priests and sisters live out theirs.

Let us return to nuptial meaning and the "wedding" of priests and sisters. Wedding a spouse -- be that spouse a man, woman, Church, Christ -- requires complete donation of the self to be truthful, to be authentic. The sin of contraception is that it's a witholding a part of the self. It is a form of lying to the spouse.

Real Vocations

How do authentic priests and nuns give completely of themselves?

The Roman Catholic priest gives his whole life to the church 24/7. He does not have his own wife and children as a separate compartment in his life. The sister, at least one who's a member of a traditional and healthy order, also gives her whole life to Christ, living in community with other sisters, wearing a habit, following a rule. She sacrifices many things. She doesn't own a condo and have a different outfit for every day of the month. She doesn't go on nights out with the girls.

An important part of self-donation is that priests, male religious and sisters identify themselves as being such by dress and/or by title, i.e., Father, Sister, Brother. While there are no canon law provisions or catechism instructions mandating such identification, there are likewise no canon law provisions or catechism instructions mandating concealment, disguising oneself as a layperson, or as one parallel church, Opus Dei, calls it: reticence.

Why are habit and title important? For very simple, human reasons. They are outward signs of the commitment, including to those who bear them. Equally important, they are signs that the priest or sister is off-limits for courtship, already a spouse ("Don't fall in love with this person!"). Habit and title are an important prevention of scandal and heartache.

Imagine a man being attracted to one of these "consecrated women" he meets at work, at Mass or even in a bar (because she's out in the world "working for the sanctification of the world from within"). She gives no indication that she doesn't consider herself available. She interacts with laypeople like any layperson. After some pleasant conversations, maybe even some flirting, which only strengthen his attraction, the man asks the woman to go out with him. She responds by whipping out celibacy like a Glock, telling him she has a single vocation or is "consecrated."

In fact, she may not even be so straightforward. People who live in cultures of deception and concealment are loathe to be clear about themselves. In the man's eyes, her playing the celibacy card or her vague hints are a rejection, a feeble, insulting attempt at a polite excuse on the level of "I can't go out. I do laundry and rotate my mattress on Saturday nights."

The man would be right in angrily demanding, "Then why aren't you a nun in a convent?"

Don't think that rejection and broken hearts are inconsequential. Aa. They're only men. Who cares? Some men hurt and kill women because of rejection. A beloved one snatched away can "launch a thousand ships."

In times and places of persecution, priests and sisters were forced to conceal their identities, but there are surely good historical reasons, borne of human experience, that identifying oneself as a priest, sister or brother by dress and title has been commonplace for centuries.

Another sign of total self-donation is poverty, just as the religious garb and the title are a sign of the commitment. Unlike sisters and priests in most orders, diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty. However custom (going back as far a St. Augustine), decency and their effectiveness as ministers dictate that they do not have as many possessions (or as much fun) as laypeople.

It is no surpise that poverty is also absent from the single vocation. Consecrated women own real estate. They make themselves attractive (and are in fact, encouraged to do so by apostolates they belong to). They enjoy travels and lots of nights out drinking wine and margaritas with the girls.

Looking through Church History, you will find that whenever poverty is absent from religious life, scandal and trouble result.

If ever there was a contraceptive witholding from a spouse, these "consecrated" women perpetrate it. They live a lie, the contraceptive lie. They say, "All for you, Jesus! Oh, except for happy hour. Except for shopping with the girls. Except for my tennis game. Except for my time with my nieces and nephews," and so on.

To claim that defective states, contraceptive lies, are something intended by God is blasphemous.

These women and their parallel churches justify the lay lifestyles (everything but a husband) by claiming that they are evangelizing in the world. They may be convinced by those who exploit them and firmly believe that they are the brides of Christ. But they are really the brides of the Great Deceiver.

Single Vocation Origins

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 914-933 describes several types of consecrated life and states that "bishops strive to discern new gifts of consecrated life." Unfortunately, in the 20th century, popes from Pius XII to Benedict XVI thought that challenges of the modern world required that the church experiment with new ways of evangelization.

Also, as it has become clear in recent years, the contents of church documents can be lobbied by powerful (and monied) interests who want their legitimacy carved in the marble of church documents. Additionally, church documents are not unknown to contain personal opinions and happy talk.

The CCC's paragraphs on consecrated life create loopholes ringed by vagueness. Looking through them, the broad-minded can infer that not only single vocations but nuns living in their own condos and being corporate CEOs are "new gifts." And let's not forget deaconnesses.

Which brings me to the origins of the "single vocation." There have been single saints and bizarre notions and denigrations of marriage in church history, but if the "single vocation" ever existed as a concept in the past, it was forgotten until recently. Its appearance has occurred with two phenomena that began in the 20th century.

The first phenomenon is the decline of marriage, even among Catholics. Single women now outnumber married women. For whatever reasons -- and I think some of them are irrational and really skewed from reality -- more and more women are terrified of men, terrified of marriage, terrified of any feelings and attraction they have for men. This terror that women have may even be behind some females' desire to identify as males.

Married people don't notice the alienation of the sexes as much as single people do, but every Catholic, especially priests and bishops, should be concerned about the decline of marriage and the alienation of men and women. It is not all about pornography.

Does it have to be spelled out? Fewer marriages mean fewer children, fewer people at Mass, fewer priests and sisters, fewer Catholics, not to mention fewer people to do the work of civilization which is already facing a serious population decline. Read P.D. James' prophetic The Children of Men. Again, every Catholic should be concerned about this problem.

The Catholic faith needs more marriages, morseo than it needs more priests, certainly moreso than it needs more sisters. In these times only fools, or parallel churches interested only in themselves or in league with the aforementioned Great Deceiver (Satan hates marriage.), would want to turn the Catholic Church into a celibate sect like the Shakers, to draw strong pro-life, pro-family Catholic women out of the marriage pool.

Unfortunately the "single vocation" also comes in handy for priests who put a premium on being nice and give "I'm OK. You're OK" advice: So you're single. You shouldn't feel bad! It's a vocation!

This is why I believe the single vocation/consecrated virginity are merely excuses for women who are scared of men and sex.

The second phenomenon is the rise of secular institutes. These are described in CCC Paragraphs 928 and 929 as institutes of consecrated life who "work for the sanctification of the world especially from within" and “to order temporal things according to God and inform the world with the power of the gospel.”

Human Life Action

Read the paragraphs carefully. Isn't each of us Catholics supposed to do all they describe? And if so, why do we need secular institutes? Except for those in cloisters or carmels, priests and nuns are also "in the world?"

Let me interject that when it comes to anything outside doctrine, what is "legal" in the church, what is printed in black and white, is, as in secular law, not necessarily what is moral. It is not even what is sensible. What does "from within" mean anyway? When it comes to preventing hurt, injustice and scandal, what is allowed or described in an official document is not necessarily what is prudent.

It is not prudent for laypeople to live in community directed by other laypeople. It is not prudent for laypeople to give spiritual direction. It is not prudent for women claiming to have single vocations or be brides of Christ to appear and behave like laypeople.

From the two CCC paragraphs it can be inferred that seculate institutes consist of members who make vows before a bishop and exist in some kind of community although they work in the world. The paragraphs say nothing about concealing from the world that they have taken such vows and are members of such community. They say nothing about parallel church-like behavior and abuse into which secular institutes tend to fall. This proneness is why some describe secular institutes as "parallel churches" and cults.

Escriva and His Archetype

The inventor of the secular institute was Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer and his invention was Opus Dei, an archetype, incorporating some things borrowed from St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Escriva model was mimicked by me-too-Opus-Dei-founder, Marcel Maciel in his Legionaries of Christ/Regnum Christi.

Whatever Escriva intended, Maciel, a bisexual egomaniac priest who fathered illegitimate children and had homosexual relations with seminarians, deliberately designed LC/RC as a cult. It cannot be anything but a cult and Pope Benedict XVI should have shut it down.

There are other secular institutes, mostly of Hispanic origin, others inspired, not founded, by St. Maximillian Kolbe, but Opus Dei and LC/RC are the largest. You can find bits of Escriva in charismatic communities as well.

Escriva earned the favor of popes, not least St. John Paul II who saw the Spaniard as a prophet of "the univeral call to holiness." Remember, as I wrote above, recent popes thought that some nice-sounding novelties were worth a try.

I have much to write about secular institutes/parallel churches that developed in the late 20th century which I do in Parallel Churches and The Benedict Option: My Experience With Cult-like Institutes in Washington, DC. Here I will focus on why parallel churches draw women into the lie of the single vocation.

Islamic Inspiration?

That Escriva was from Spain and that Maciel was also Hispanic (Mexican) is, I think, significant. Why are secular institutes founded by Hispanics, not by Irish, French, Poles?

Spain was once ruled by Islamic Moors and later inhabited by some of the Albigensians, a gnostic heretic cult that was anti-life, believing that procreation was evil. The Moslem Moors believed that women are property and are to be guarded very closely. Women are automatic temptations to men, Eves to Mens' Adams. That's why Moslem women wear scarves and burkas.

"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty:" Mohammed wrote, "that will make for greater purity for them?"

It's hard not to think that centuries of Islamic rule did not leave an imprint on the Spanish character which was spread to that country's empire in Central and South America (as aggressively as Islam spread around the Mediterranean. The conquista and Spanish slaving also smack of Islam). It's hard not to think that Escriva and Maciel did not carry some Islamic cultural "DNA."

The Moslem has his harem. The Catholic priest who thinks like a Moslem has his "harem" (not literally!) in a following of unmarried women. The Moslem keeps his female property from tempting men with burkas. The Catholic priest who thinks like a Moslem keeps his female property from tempting men by urging the women into single vocations. The single vocations are the burkas. The problem is: unlike burkas, the single vocations are invisible as the women walk down the street.

And then there is the "will of God." We all know how Moslems are certain of the "will of Allah." The same presumption occurs in Opus Dei's very name which means "work of God." The Legionaries of Christ/ Regnum Christi have also called themselves a "work of God," lately a "call from God." Both parallel churches are notorious for telling women that it is "God's will" that they have a vocation to join the parallel church and remain single.

Signs of "God's will" have included menstrual problems (Parallel church spiritual directors pry into everything) and the inability to bear children. Just as Islam may punish with death members who convert away, these Hispanic parallel churches make life Hell for people who want to leave, who fall in love with a guy or otherwise go against "the will of God."

Anti-Marital Attitudes

Whether or not my theories about Islamic influences in Opus Dei and Legionaries of Christ/ Regnum Christi have any merit, there are operating in parallel churches some misunderstandings about marriage and celibacy.

One misunderstanding surrounds the church teaching that celibate life is superior to married life. This can easily morph into the attitude, displayed by some secular institute members, that marriage is evil.

The scriptural support for the superiority of celibacy is found in Matthew 19:10-12 and 1 Corinthians 7: 25-39. In Matthew, Jesus, following his declaration that marriage is indissoluble, speaks of "those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (RSV). In the same verse Jesus says that this is a matter of receiving a "precept" from God. God gives special graces for celibate vocations. God, not an old-maid Regnum Christi "spiritual guide," decides who shall have the calling and graces to be celibate for the Kingdon of God (to give his or her total self).

In Corinthians, written during Roman persecution, St. Paul, who also believed that the return of Christ and end of the world were imminent, told the Corinthians "It is better not to marry." Apparently Paul was also dealing with Corinthians who believed that marriage is evil (probably some kind of gnostics). He also states in 28 that those who marry "have not sinned." How could they sin when Jesus had made marriage a sacrament?

The vocation of a priest or nun is called "perfect evengelization." That's not just because they're celibate. That's because of their total self-donation. As I hope to have driven home by now, these people claiming single vocations and espousal to Christ are withholding quite a bit. Otherwise, If there is the universal call to holiness vaunted by Vatican II, then celibacy should not be a distinction.

Then there is that notion that men, spiritual directors and "guides," not God, decide who has vocations. Not many decades ago, large Catholic families were expected to furnish sons and daughters to the priesthood or convent. Children who had little prospects for marriage or success in life were also herded into Holy Orders. Their fitness for religious life or interior condition or mental state did not matter. It was assumed that binding them by rules would prevent mischief and scandal. Opus Dei/LC/RC have lots of rules.

The result of this was decades of priestly abuse of children. Everyone who went to Catholic schools in the 1960s has "crazy nun" stories. Men and women who were unfit to be priests or nuns also showed particular gusto for dissenting from church doctrine. Some of them rose to positions of leadership.

Vocations to total self-donation are indeed a call from God, delivered over many years through experiences, family devotion, role models and many other means. A vocation is not brought about by some old-maid (or divorced) "spiritual guide" deciding that a woman has a vocation because the latter has genital warts.

Parallel churches are all about recruiting. Their members are constantly on the lookout for more prospects and "vocations." They get involved with choirs, CCD and youth groups just to find prospects.

These people genuinely believe that proselytization and leading more to vocations make them personally holier. It's a kind of Amway Catholicism. It's very self-centered: God alone and my salvation. Recruits are just scores, fireflies one captures in one's jar.

With this attitude comes the temptation to be very pragmatic, especially if you are morally shallow as most people are. The fitness of the recruit doesn't matter. The means one uses to bring the prospect in, including deception, doesn't matter. The end justifies the means. It's all about numbers.

Lastly, parallel churches expect tithing and single professionals have more disposable income. I should point out here that parallel churches are mainly interested in affluent and attractive people. You can attract others with attractive people. Unlike the Catholic church which hopes for everybody, parallel churches don't want everybody.

That is one reason why they are secretive, why you will never see a table for Opus Dei or Regnum Christi at the parish Time, Talent and Treasure fair, why you will never encounter members handing out pamphlets after Mass, or wearing badges on their lapels, or driving cars with "RC" on the license plates or operating in small, blue-collar towns and cities.

It should be clear by now why parallel churches are a major encouragement of the single-vocation lie. Parallel churches think that celibacy is the most desirable state, that therefore the more people they convince to stay single makes them holier. Parallel churches further see single people with their greater disposable income as a juicy source of funding.

Above I wrote that foregoing marriage is not a sacrifice for some people. Celibacy is indeed not a sacrifice for people who are terrified of the opposite sex. The "single vocation" comes in handy for such people. They can say, "My vocation is not to marry" (especially if someone asks them for a date), but they are giving up something they are scared of anyway. And let me repeat: they don't give up closets full of pretty clothes, or going out to happy hours or country music concerts or baseball games. There is no sacrifice in the other parts of their lives, no poverty, no total gift of self. That's why the single vocation is a lie.

Being afraid of men is not a vocation. Being rejected by women is not a vocation.

When marriage is in trouble, all Catholics, especially priests should be bringing men and women together, yet the lie of the single vocation seems to be accepted by almost everyone in the Catholic church.

The decline of marriage is a serious problem, an ill to be cured, most likely with strong medicine. It is not something to be glossed over with the invention and acceptance of new "vocations."


(1) Msgr. Charles A. Pope, (Community In Mission), Is There a Vocation to the Single Life? I Think Not and Here's Why, May 26, 2015.

For Further Reading

About Neal J. Conway