Roman Catholics: Woe Behind the Walls

The contemplative orders of the Roman Catholic Church are in trouble. Despite an upsurge of new recruits in the years following World War II, such orders as the Trappists, Poor Clares and Carmelites have recently suffered a loss in numbers as a result of defections and a decline in novices.

According to Vatican statistics issued last year, the Trappists and Carmelites alone experienced a drop of nearly 700 members in the preceding twelve months. In most U.S. Trappist monasteries, membership is down by some 50% from postwar peaks; the abbey in Piffard, N.Y., which once harbored 76 monks, has only 36...