The Vatican has stunned followers by suggesting that “Brides of Christ” do not have to be virgins to be “married to God.”
Published earlier this year, Catholic document Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago states that physical virginity is not an “essential prerequisite” to consecration.
In the Catholic Church, to live a “consecrated” life means those who dedicate their lives to following Christ live a stable and disciplined form of Christian living which includes celibacy.
Nuns are not the only women considered Brides of Christ by the Vatican.
The practice also includes consecrated virgins meaning people who “give themselves fully to Christ” and commit to a life of celibacy.
There are roughly 5,000 of these devoted Catholics worldwide including 200 in the UK. Such women usually wear a ring as a sign of their pledge to remain pure for Jesus.
The US Association of Consecrated Virgins has called the Vatican’s apparently new definition of consecration “shocking.”
In a statement, the group said: “The entire tradition of the Church has firmly upheld that a woman must have received the gift of virginity – both physical and spiritual – in order to receive the consecration of virgins.”
They added: “In the case of virgins leading lives in the world it is required that they have never celebrated marriage and that they have not publicly or manifestly lived in a state contrary to chastity.”