Persecution of nuns getting to be a new episcopal hobby? French Novus Ordo nuns get the FFI treatment.
As I’m sure we all know, there’s nothing a bully likes more than an easy target. And if you’ve been in the Catholic Church more than five minutes you will understand how bishops are affected by the Vatican’s fine example.
These days, it seems if you are a canonically recognised religious community who wants to have things even a little bit more traditional, you can run, but apparently you cannot hide. Especially if your bishop is broke and you own a lot of property. Something the Petites Sœurs de Marie Mère du Rédempteur are finding out these days.
In February, Riposte Catholique published a circular letter from the sisters to their friends, saying that the were being “persecuted” in a way similar to that of the Vatican’s treatment of the Franciscans of the Immaculate.
The case is complex, but bears many points in common with the way the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious is dealing with those communities whom the progressive “New Paradigm”ists consider recalcitrants. Taking a closer look might give some insight into what other communities might expect if they dare to stand up for the integrity of their own charisms.
It is also noteworthy that this community is emphatically not “Traditional,” but merely what we used to call “conservative”. Their lay association (on Facebook here), start the discussion with a declaration of the sisters’ being “totally in line” with the “conciliar directions” of the Church since Vatican II; we see again that the comfortable “conservative” middle ground, the “reasonable compromise” of JPII-era Catholic conservatism, has evaporated.
This little community of novus ordo sisters – there are now 37 of them – were founded in France in 1949, “dedicated to supporting priests, parishes and families” and the pursuit of the sanctification of the members of the community. They work in parishes doing lay formation and looking after old people in four nursing homes. The community is based in the diocese of Laval and has a presence in neighbouring archdiocese of Toulouse.
“Through this apostolate, the Institute ensures the protection and respect of the end of life, accompanying Christians to the elderly until their natural death. They are also concerned with supporting and training families in Catholic doctrine and spiritual life.” They are appreciated locally for their devotion to “traditional spirituality.”
Notably, in 2012, the sisters returned to the wearing of their original habit,
…that back-of-the-head-with-little-tuft-of-hair-showing veil we’ve all become so used to since the Asteroid. (If anyone tells you that the “form of dress” is an irrelevant side issue ask them why it’s not OK to go back to the original habits. Guess what; symbolic garments symbolise things.)
According to Riposte Catholique: “Bishop Thierry Scherrer, bishop of Laval since 2008, yet reputed to be a ‘classic,’ seems to have bergoglianized. He is uncomfortable with the presence of the seminar of the Community Saint-Martin, on his diocese, in Évron, and does not appreciate the too traditional way of the Little Sisters to live in spirit of reparation and contemplation and felt called to become their ‘Refounder’.”
Apparently, like Bergoglio, the bishop gets “worried” when a tradition-minded religious order starts getting too many young eager and faithful vocations and becomes well loved by the laity. In this case the bishop’s response to this “worry” was to delate his own sisters to Rome.
According to the lay organisation, (that you can find here on Facebook) following a merger of the sisters’ retirement homes with another [order] in Mayenne, Bishop Scherrer found himself an ex-officio member of the board of directors of the civil management association of these assisted nursing homes.” He reportedly began issuing orders about the management of these homes, despite his lack of experience in the field. Naturally these decisions met with resistance, and the bishop’s response was to initiate a “canonical visitation” on the order, an action that in our current epoch has become tantamount to a declaration of war. His two visitators, unsurprisingly, gave him a report on the life of the sisters that found them to be too traditional – accusing them of “sectarian excesses,” objecting to their return to the traditional habit and their rejection of modern media in the enclosure – which was then sent on to the Roman Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life of Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, of odious ill fame. (One has to wonder, while reading the story that follows, whatever happened to the good cardinal’s commitment to “dialogue”…)
The result of this delation was that the Congregation “suspended the Council of the Congregation and sent the Superior General and the Mistress of Novices into exile to distant monasteries for an indefinite period.” This left three apostolic commissioners, appointed by Rome, in charge of the congregation. An appeal by the sisters for a new canonical investigation was refused by the Congregation.
In a letter of February 28, 2018, “the Dicastery for Religious did not give the sisters the freedom to choose what seemed to them the best for their Institute and they were invited on pain of ‘dismissal of the Institute,’ to welcome the Commissioners appointed by this same Dicastery.”
These Commissioners included Sr. Monique Colrat, Superior General of the Congregation of Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary…
…and Sr. Geneviève Médevielle, of the Auxiliatrices des Souls du Purgatoire and honourary professor of philosophy and theology at the Catholic Institute of Paris. We can perhaps predict her opinions about the remaining Tradition-minded Catholics, including sisters, by reading her appraisal of Amoris Laetitia.
Sr. Geneviève said of the infamous Chapter 8:
To want to oppose the doctrinal to the pastoral as some currents have done with regard to the Second Vatican Council, is to expose oneself to reducing both doctrine and pastoral work. The doctrine is then reduced to abstract formulas without taking into account the actual spiritual experience of Christ in the Church. Pastoral care, on the other hand, is reduced to normative practices that do not involve the mystery. In Amoris laetitia, the doctrine is omnipresent in the form of reminders of the tradition in matters of family and conjugal morality , it is incarnated in the necessities of the moment starting from a capital importance of the discernment animated by the meditation of the Scripture.
But if we consider the situation of cohabitation in its complexity, its temporality within a given culture taking into account the singularity and evolution of the cohabitants, it appears that there are many ways of living situations of cohabitation. One can understand then that they do not carry the same moral weight and do not lead to the same consequences according to the circumstances in which they live and according to the own motivations of the cohabitants. The clear denial of a long-term commitment is not like a cohabitation-step to get to know each other better or to make sure before a definitive commitment. If time is given priority over space as Pope Francis says, a cohabitation that the moral tradition describes as ‘objective situation of sin’ can be discerned as a ‘step in a route.’ This stage is marked by an incompleteness in relation to the good news of the Christian marriage, even tainted by a situation of sin according to the intentions of one or the other of the cohabitants. But in a thought that takes into account the temporality and unheard-of action of God, we can see this cohabitation as a ‘stage’ always open to grace and its deployment. Nobody is so fixed in a state or a situation. Every situation is open to the hope and transformative power of grace over time.
This is the same Commissioner who has now been appointed by Rome as the general superior of the community to replace the Superior General Mother Marie de Saint-Michel, elected according to the community’s approved constitutions. The sisters have denounced Sr. Geneviève’s lack of “knowledge of the specific charism of our founder” adding, “the whole congregation refuses these measures.”
The sisters write that the new superiors that have been forced on the community by Rome “have the mission to make us reflect and evolve on how we embody the charism and live our religious life,” without themselves having any knowledge of what that charism is.
“Too often in the history of the institutes, this type of measure has resulted in splits, departures, orientations taken that distort the charism clean to put it to the taste of the world under cover.
“We have every reason to fear that the action of the Commissioners at the head of our Congregation has serious consequences, more or less long term, both on the temporal and on the spiritual [situation].”
The sisters wrote, “The vagueness of the [report sent to Rome] is also most eloquent. Our lifestyle is too classic to please, at a time when many are sacrificing their ideal and the religious ideal to the spirit of the world .” The sisters have called the report “a caricature,” – “more of a pre-trial judgment than an objective statement of the situation of the Institute” that “does not reflect in any way the reality of life within our Congregation.”
They are appealing the decisions of the Congregation to the Apostolic Signatura. (A move, we might recall, availed the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate nothing whatever.) They add that no findings were made that the sisters were violating either their own approved constitutions or French civil law, and at no time had the two suspended superiors “been warned of some breach, in the form of some reprimand or warning whatsoever.”
“[W]e do not understand that the bishop of Laval can accept to read us a
disastrous report of canonical visit, without asking any questions, even as three sisters of our institute have put themselves at his service and that of his mother, besides, for nine years, and especially, while all the sisters gathered to hear the said report urged immediately (but without success) a contradictory exchange with him,” the sisters continued.
In a letter dated June 15th, the sisters’ lay supporters wrote “In the civil society, this pressure, with these processes, could be a form of moral harassment condemned by the law.”
Marcel Mignot, President of the Support Association for the sisters, wrote in April, “[I]t is clear from this case that the canon law of the Church is being used as a scandalous recourse to bypass the functioning of civil law. We legitimately come to ask ourselves the question of Bishop Scherrer’s real motivations, of which we also know that the Diocese is experiencing financial difficulties…The patrimony of the Congregation would be a providential manna for this Diocese in a tense situation.”
This “tense situation” is a rather polite expression for a French diocese on the edge of financial collapse. The “diocese of Laval, like many dioceses in France, is financially desperate, surviving only through the regular sale of its assets: religious houses, presbyteries, etc. The situation is aggravated by the recent construction of a very expensive diocesan house. The bishop’s actions “would probably allow the diocese to recover one of the two institutions.”
Of course, I don’t know. Maybe these nuns are secretly guilty of some horrible canonical delict. Like … oh I don’t know… maybe they’re spending millions of the order’s money running guns or drugs or are into money laundering. Or maybe they were handing out condoms to prostitutes against the express orders of their superiors in religion. Or maybe they’re trying to normalise sexual immorality. Or perhaps they run about the world with unlimited quantities of cash from donors, handed over on demand, no-questions-asked, in order to live clandestine double lives. Or maybe they’ve been brainwashing their lay associates…
I’ll try to keep track of this situation. I’ve signed up for their news updates. Meanwhile, those interested can sign a petition to the bishop to … well, I guess just leave them alone.