VATICAN CITY — It's a life regimented in excruciating detail, down to the way they eat an orange. Silence is the norm, information is limited, e-mail is screened, close friendships are discouraged and family members are kept at bay — all in the name of God's will.
Known as consecrated women, they are lay Catholics affiliated with a conservative religious order who dedicate their lives to the church, making promises of chastity, poverty and obedience similar to the vows taken by nuns.
But the cult-like conditions they endure so alarmed Pope Benedict XVI that in May he ordered an extremely rare full Vatican investigation of the obscure group, which operates in the U.S., Mexico, Spain, the Philippines and a dozen other countries. The inquiry is expected to begin in the coming weeks.