salus animarum suprema lex

04 September 2011

Physical Virginity as a Requirement for Consecrated Virginity

Over at Fr. Z's blog (here), there was some discussion in the combox about whether physical virginity was a requirement for those wishing to become consecrated virgins.  To clarify, I would like to offer the following points.

The Ordo Consecrationis Virginum states the requirement in praenotanda no. 5 as follows:

"In the case of women living in the world it is required that they have never been married or lived in public or flagrant violation of chastity [publice seu manifeste in statu castitati contrario vixerunt]."

You can see that the original Latin reads a bit differently, but with pretty much the same point.  At first glance, I understood this to mean that only those who were publicly known to be non-virgins would be ineligible.  For example, those who had been married or those who had been publicly cohabitating should not be consecrated.  On the other hand, those women who had consented to sexual intercourse but had not been living in a state of notorious concubinage, would remain eligible.  In fact, I was even quick to invoke canon 18 which states that laws which restrict the free exercise of rights are subject to strict interpretation.

However, I was later made aware of a private correspondence between then-Archbishop Burke of St. Louis and the CWDS.  In a 2005 letter, His Eminence wrote to the congregation regarding whether physical virginity was a requirement for consecration.  In the letter, he indicated that many bishops in the U.S. and Canada are divided on this issue and that some have gone on to consecrate virgins under the concept of "secondary virginity."  As evidence to the contrary, Burke states that his understanding of "publice" is not a notorious state of concubinage, but rather that the acts are public, which is to say, committed with another person.  In 2007, the CDWDS responded (Prot. n. 231/06/L) concurring with Burke's interpretation that those who  "have knowingly and deliberately engaged in sexual relations should not be received as consecrated virgins, but may be encouraged to make another form of personal consecration."  Notice also that rape would not be considered a violation of physical virginity.  The congregation goes on to say that the phrase "publice seu manifeste" contained in praenotanda no. 5, is meant to avoid the possible inference that anyone should be required to make a manifestation of conscience in the external forum.

In a recent conversation with Cardinal Burke, I asked him about this requirement, and he reaffirmed that physical virginity is required from the very rationale of the rite itself.  In the rite, the virgin presents her virginity to the Church, and the bishop consecrates that virginity to our Lord.  As this pertains to pastoral practice, His Eminence said that bishops or vicars general need not pry into the past sexual history of the candidate but should explain to her what consecrated virginity is (as above) and allow the candidate to voluntarily withdraw if she is ineligible, perhaps making a private vow of chastity instead.  This would avoid a manifestation of conscience in the external forum but still respects the norms of the rite and the essence of consecrated virginity.


  1. And it is my understanding that Abp. Burke was (is) the US expert on the vocation of consecrated virginity.

  2. That is correct. He was the head of the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins during his time as Archbishop of St. Louis. Plus, ya know, he is the Prefect for the Apostolic Signatura and easily one of the best canonists in the world.