Can a Carmelite nun leave?


I have a sister who is a discalced carmelite (vows and everything) in a convent following the 1990 constitution. I’ve always appreciated her vocation, though slightly missing her, but for the first time in years I am having small but serious suspicions about her.

I don’t enjoy thinking about it, but I am curious if it would be possible for her to move to a different convent, or to leave the order altogether. On that topic, the only website I found just says that final vows are extremely important, but it is possible to leave through a process similar to a marriage annulment.

Does anyone know what this “annulment” process would look like? Does anyone know of any former discalced carmelites? Can they leave but still observe their vows? Can they go back to secular lives?

(I’ve only heard of ex-nuns with horror stories, and of ex-nuns that have turned to new age spirituality–and none of those sound encouraging…:()

What are you meaning please? This is a very very serious matter indeed and will be well under advice at the convent, be assured. A Life Professed nun leaving is a very serious matter indeed and there is Canon Law and other provision.

It would be a matter of speculation for us to try to understand what you intend when you say you have “small but serious suspicions about her.” As in her personal well-being? Or the well-being of the monastery to which she belongs?

Yes, it is possible for her to be moved from one monastery to another – the normal situation in which that would happen is if her monastery were to make a foundation and she was chosen as one of the foundresses of the new monastery. It can happen, permanently or temporarily, for other reasons.

There is provision for one in perpetual vows to leave the monastery. It is a rare occurrence simply because the Religious will have spent many years preparing for perpetual vows and the community, particularly the Mother Prioress and her Council, will have taken care in those years to determine that the candidate for perpetual vows is apt for the life and indeed has a vocation to Religious Life and as a Cloistered Discalced Carmelite specifically.

I don’t know the website you are looking at but the process does not look like an annulment at all, other than, I suppose, that it involves in each instance the building of dossiers and submission of material to be evaluated in a process governed by the norm of law. That would be on the most superficial of levels considering what is actually being evaluated.

Declarations of nullity are petitioned through the diocese and are handled by the diocesan tribunal under the Judicial Vicar with appeal to the ecclesiastical court of second instance, which would normally be the metropolitan see.

Discalced Carmelite Nuns are under pontifical enclosure and, by pontifical right, enjoy exemptions from the local bishop’s jurisdiction. The process would begin with one or more defined periods of exclaustration. The Sister could then petition to be dispensed from her perpetual vows. This would involve in this case the General Curia of the Discalced Carmelites, which is in Rome, and The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which is the competent dicastery of the Holy See.

There are certainly circumstances in which the Religious would/could wear the habit during exclaustration as, for example, if a Religious is exclaustrated to care for a dying parent or other extreme family crisis or for some need concerning the monastery or for the health of the Sister.

Normally, a Sister could not live in that state indefinitely since part of the vocation of a cloistered nun – as opposed to an active Sister – is to live a cloistered and contemplative life. It can happen, for all intent and purpose, if the nun were to have a massive health crisis at end of life and needed to be, for example, in a long term hospitalization. Obviously, she would be granted exclaustration for the duration of the need, which could be unto death.

A cloistered Religious could certainly seek to move to an active Order or Congregation…but in my experience, it is more likely to go the other way with an active Religious seeking to move to a contemplative monastery.

Finally, yes, a dispensed Religious can return to lay life.

Rather than asking people who do not know your sister or her monastery, why do you not address your concerns directly to your sister? She is far better positioned to actually reassure you than we are.

You mean like the mafia or the CIA? :D:confused:

I can’t imagine the life of a Carmelite nun, it looks like a very loving vocation; all the best to your sister and you.

What is it that makes you question your sister’s vocation?
Had she expressed that she isn’t happy or wants to leave the order?

She would have to meet with her superior, and her confessor/spritual director, and perhaps her Bishop about these things

See the film “The Nun;'s Story” for how the process of exclaustration works… It was on youtube and may still be so…

A nun in solemn vows can only be dispensed by the Holy See. The local bishop would not have jurisdiction.

I know two professed Carmelite nuns who left. I do not know the procedure they went through.
Here is what Canon Law has to state:

What you write would concern an institute of diocesan right.

The procedure is different for an institute of pontifical right.

Oh dear. There’s a memory from years long past.

This movie, however, is more a creation of Hollywood’s fancy than how canonical procedures work in the real world…above all in the 60 some years since that movie was created. I recall it as one of those American films of that era about women’s Religious life that were…remarkable. I shall never forget The Bells of Saint Mary. They were beyond remarkable.

Exclaustration is far more involved than merely a definitive exit from Religious Life, which is how I remember the movie depicted it.

The plot of the movie, at least as I remember it in broad terms, involves a medical missionary who would be an active Sister…she certainly was not a cloistered nun in pontifical enclosure, which is the topic at hand.

The process is also not so filled with melodrama.

The one thing I still remember vividly (I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw it. 50 years ago?) was the doors operated by buzzers so that Audrey Hepburn (if I still remember the actress) could leave on to some European back street. Although our palazzi have access by buzzers, in all my years I can’t think of a cloister I went to where the access/egress from the cloister involved a buzzer.

What procedures apply along the RL way? Can a religious or nun leave without special procedures or permissions up to Final Vows?

Yes and no. If a person is in the midst of a period of temporary vows (which are taken for one year, or three years, or… depends on the community), they need permission to leave before that period has expired. At the end of the one or three years, or whatever, they can leave before renewing.

A postulant/candidate or novice can leave at any time without permission–OR can be asked to leave at any time. Similarly, a person in temporary vows can be refused permission to renew or to proceed to final vows.

Thank you :thumbsup:

Your question vastly expands the scope of this thread and I am reticent to give an exhaustive answer as it would, besides, require more than one post due to the character limit.

As you have already made a post citing the Code of Canon Law, you are familiar with accessing that source and the points in universal law that touch upon this topic which are to be found there.

So, we eliminate that from the discussion.

Beyond that, it becomes an issue of proper law in whatever institute of perfection is being discussed. Secular institutes and societies of apostolic life will have norms and laws proper to their specific status and structure…as will institutes of diocesan right in distinction to institutes of pontifical right. Procedures will vary.

Nunsuch is correct in everything that she has said.

If the person has made temporary profession and wishes to leave before the expiry of the vows, the vows would need to be dispensed and proper law would delineate who did that and the procedure for doing that.

I will just add that if the candidate is a cleric…as for example a diocesan priest who has sought, after ordination, to try his vocation in consecrated life…the procedures for departure from the institute must also take into account the bond of incardination which would have rested with his diocese (using the example of a diocesan priest as it is simpler than an Oratorian, for example, seeking to pass to an abbey); excardination/incardination would only happen with definitive incorporation into the institute of perfection. In this case, the process of his departure from the institute before definitive incorporation would necessarily be done in concert with the Ordinary of where the cleric is incardinated.

If a nun has a change of heart and wants to leave and go back to secular life, of course she can leave. Would a convent want to keep a nun against her will? It’s not like it’s jail or something. (right?)

Does your sister keep in touch with you? Do these nun have access to phones, email, written letters, etc?


Of course it is not a jail. I would have thought that should go without saying. A cloister locks the world out…it does not lock the nun in, as though she is in prison. One is not held hostage.

The constitutions (there are presently two for monasteries of Discalced Carmelite Nuns and the monasteries are designated by the one they observe) and the particular obediences of the monastery will govern issues such as phone calls, correspondence and its amount and timing, and visit from family as well as any access to Internet or other forms of media.

Thank you, Don Ruggero :thumbsup: I hope you get this reply ok to yours today at 3.56pm . I can’t quite figure out how CA works any more at times. I am not here often - spasmodically and mainly reading.

While I did quote Canon Law on “Departure from the Institute”, it is the complexity that can confuse me i.e. one paragraph is qualified by another. I know we have Canon Lawyers for a reason and only wanted to ensure I was on the right track. The complexity of Canon Law at times is the reason (in part) I asked and thank you for your response. I was quite happy with Nunsuch’s response too and the information she gave which did settle another reason behind my query, while I did not state, I know, my reasons. These were settled in full with Nunsuch’s reply.

But I do thank you, DS, for your own reply too.:slight_smile:

Oh. I apologise to you then.

The reference I made to the Code was simply meant that, since you quoted it, I was taking it for granted that the points in it were clear, as a way of not having to elongate my response.

Obviously, if there is a point not clear in the Code, do say.

The main problem derives from the fact that we have such diversity in institutes of perfection in the 21st century that one hesitates to make a general response without knowing some level of specifics.

Plus, when one is speaking of the major categories, I have discovered the hard way that one can miss an anomalous situation that turns out to be what was actually the focus of the questioner. :shrug:

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