November 27, 2018 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Almost all of the members of a conservative order of nuns that serve the elderly in French nursing homes have announced that they have asked to be released from their vows following attempts by the Vatican to force them to alter their way of life and to “modernize” their order.
According to their lay supporters, the sisters have been accused of engaging in “too much prayer” and concerns have been expressed that they wear the guimpe, a traditional form of religious head covering used by nuns that is no longer in vogue among the Church’s liberal elite. The sisters say that they are accused of a “deviant authoritarianism,” of being “too classical” in their thinking, and of being guilty of an “immobilism” in their devotion to their institute’s charism.
A total of 34 of the 39 members of the the Little Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer say they want to quit the order after a Vatican dicastery removed their superior general and attempted to impose three “commissioners” on them who were hostile towards their more traditional practices.
The three commissioners are led by a religious sister and theology professor with a short haircut who does not wear a habit, one who defends Amoris Laetitia and whom the sisters have said does not understand their religious charism.
The sisters say that their protests against the choice of commissioners and their request that they receive someone else more suited to their charism have fallen on deaf ears, leading them to the conclusion that they could no longer carry out their vocation within their institute.
“After having acquired the moral certainty throughout this year that the reception of the apostolic commissioner within our Institute would cause serious and certain harm, both regarding the understanding of the charisma bequeathed by God to Mother Mary of the Cross, our Foundress, and the way of living it, after many times proposing solutions of appeasement without any answer ever having been given to us, after consulting with authorized and competent persons, after having prayed much and always with the desire to remain daughters of the Church, wanting to remain faithful and obedient to the truth, it seemed to us that we had no choice but to renounce our vows,” the sisters wrote in a public statement issued on November 7 (PDF here).
“We are therefore 34 out of 39 Sisters who are members of the Institute, who have asked to be relieved of our vows by the Dicastery for Religious,” the sisters add. “We do not make this sacrifice lightly: we desire to remain in full communion with the Church, but we cannot indicate more clearly, nor more painfully, our impossibility, in conscience, to obey what is imposed.”
The Little Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer trace their origins back to 1939 when an organization of women was founded by Mere Marie de la Croix (“Mother Mary of the Cross”), according to the lay organization that defends their cause. It began as an association of the faithful and was given the status of an Institute of Consecrated Life in 1989 by the then-bishop of Laval, Louis-Marie Billé.
According to the French Catholic website Riposte Catholique, the Institute currently includes four communities located in the dioceses of Laval and Toulouse, where they supervise four nursing homes for the elderly in the French departments of Haute-Garonne and Mayenne. They also provide catechesis and training in the spiritual life to Catholic families, and open their convents to parish and spiritual retreat groups. Their service to the Catholic faithful, however, will soon come to an end if no resolution to the conflict can be found.
The Little Sisters’ travails began in 2016, when the Bishop of Laval, Thierry Scherrer, attempted to separate one of the nursing homes of the sisters from the association that administers them, despite concerns that such a reorganization would cost millions of euros and would endanger the financial viability of the home. The sisters opposed the idea, as did the nursing home’s board of directors, who rejected Scherrer’s proposal.
In apparent retaliation, Bishop Scherrer ordered a canonical visit of the sisters, sending two representatives to investigate them in late 2016. The result was a highly negative report, made public in June 2017, that asserted the existence of “problems of governance” in the order, a claim vigorously disputed by the sisters, who have issued strong expressions of satisfaction with their superiors. The sisters have called the report a “caricature” of their order, produced as a “pre-judgment” against them.
Both the sisters and Bishop Scherrer then asked the Holy See to resolve the dispute. The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life responded in September 2017 by removing the superior general of the Institute, Mère Marie de Saint Michel, as well as their mistress of novices, and sending them away from the mother house.
The Congregation then appointed three “commissioners” to oversee the sisters, who refused to accept them on the grounds that they were unsuited to their charism, and asked that other, more suitable commissioners be appointed. When this was refused, the sisters appealed to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court in the Catholic Church. The sisters say that in August the Tribunal ruled against them without allowing their canon lawyer to present his arguments, which the sisters denounced as unjust.
Meet the new boss: habitless Sr. Geneviève Médevielle, a defender of Amoris Laetitia
The Vatican is attempting to impose on the order Sr. Geneviève Médevielle, the principal among the three commissioners. Médevielle is a religious sister who dresses in lay clothing and wears a short haircut without a head covering. She is a professor of ethics at the Catholic Institute of Paris and the author of the recently-published book “Migrants, Francis, and us.” Médevielle writes in defense of Amoris Laetitia against “conservatives and traditionalists” who criticize it.
Marcel Mignot, president of the Association of Support for the Little Sisters of Mary, told the French publication La Croix, “The Little Sisters are reproached for praying too much, and they also want them to change their habit. They want to modernize them and make them evolve by taking them away from their roots.”
Médevielle denies the claim that she wants to transform the Institute, responding to La Croix, “I want to respect them, not to transform them! If there are changes, they absolutely will not concern their charism.”
However, according to the sisters’ Association of Support, “the commissioners have likewise announced the general outline of their project of reforming the congregation. The Little Sisters, have, in effect, clearly seen the evolutions that await them, towards a supposed modernity, made of progressive trivialization if they allow Sr. Medevielle take the reins of their institute, with the support of the Dicastery.”
“The latter has stated, following a meeting, ‘We won’t touch your charism at all, but rather your way of living it.’ That says it all!” the sisters’ lay supporters add.
“The goal that is sought is not to establish the truth and to allow the Little Sisters to continue their mission for the benefit of all, with respect for their charism,” the sisters’ supporters write. “The only goal of Rome is to complete the project of Bishop Scherrer: to gain control over the Institute to make it evolve in accordance with his views, whether it be in defiance of the truth, whether it be in defiance of the rights of the defense, whether it be by recourse to lying. It is, at least, unworthy of the values promoted by the Holy Father whenever he speaks publicly.”
In the meantime, the commissioners insisted that they would conduct a visitation, despite the appeal, and threatened to remove the sisters from the Institute if they refused to allow them entrance. They dismissed the fact that the sisters were in the process of appealing the commissioners’ appointments, claiming that it did not provide them any legal relief from the obligation to obey. The sisters then relented and allowed the visitation, which seemed to confirm their worst fears.
‘Intimidation, threats, and manipulation’
According to the sisters’ Association of Support, the three commissioners sought to meet with each sister individually to pit the sisters against one another, suggesting that if they cooperated they could have positions of importance in the new reorganized Institute.
“The visits have been carried out under duress, in the form of an individual interview with the Little Sisters, who were alone facing two commissioners...the latter, based on the profile of the sisters, would try to reassure some, while seeking to lure others with ‘good positions’ within the future organization of the congregation...As if the principal objection of this operation were to open a breach within the unity of the Little Sisters, in the hope of dividing them, while there prevails a beautiful communion among them.”
“The methods used, a mix of intimidation, threats, and manipulation, feel like moral harassment to many sisters,” they add.
Sisters exonerated – but Vatican refuses to lift penalties
Following the visitation by the commissioners, a new report was issued on the state of the Institute in June of this year. According to the sisters’ Association of Support, the second report recognized that “many important elements in the first report of the canonical visit of 2016, on the basis of which the sanctions would be imposed, did not reflect reality.”
“They admit that the sisters constitute dynamic communities and that the spirit that reigns is positive. They only highlight some some rather banal criticisms, which don’t compare to the complaints made in the initial report,” the sisters’ supporters write.
Despite being vindicated in the second report, however, the sisters have been told that the sanctions placed on them by the dicastery will not be lifted. “The Little Sisters are stupefied!” writes the Association of Support. “They do not cease to express their indignation in the face of this fallacious report, demanding that justice be done for them, that all of the baseless and degrading sanctions be lifted.”
The sisters complain that while the accusation against their superiors of being too heavy handed is contradicted by the testimony of the sisters themselves, the Vatican itself has been extremely authoritarian in the way it has treated the sisters.
“Even though the superiors would be accused of a ‘deviant authoritarianism,’ as the first report says, here is obedience suddenly brandished as a duty without appeal, without the concern of a right conscience having a say in it, without ever having been explained to us the least objective foundation of all these Roman measures,” the sisters write in their most recent public statement. “So would there be two weights, two standards in this affair?”
In addition, the nuns write that one of their houses in southern France has been targeted by the Archbishop of Toulouse, Robert Le Gall, who has prohibited them from attending their more traditional form of Mass in their community chapel. This appears to be the same house that has refused to participate in Le Gall’s Mass at the local nursing home, presumably because of differences over liturgical practice. The house is located in Castelnau-d’Estrétefonds, to the north of Toulouse, in Haute-Garonne, and is led by Sr. Marie-Liesse Laplace.
Vatican sends ultimatum: submit or be dismissed
Finally, in September, the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, João Braz de Aviz, sent an ultimatum to the sisters, requiring them to accept Sr. Geneviève Médevielle as their authority “without reserve” or face dismissal from the Institute. The vast majority have asked to be released from their vows, rather than submit to Médevielle. No announcements have yet been made regarding the response of the Holy See.
The sisters passed through a similar trial in the 1970s, when officials of the Holy See attempted to force them to join other institutes. The sisters resisted and expressed their preference for losing their status as religious rather than entering another institute, according to the Association of Support. However, their congregation survived the ordeal.
The sisters have stated publicly that they wish to see the public alerted to their situation, and to come to their aid in resisting what they regard as a grave injustice against their institute and its charism of aiding the suffering at the end of life. Contact information for those interested in supporting and defending the Little Sisters can be found at the bottom of this article.
The apparent persecution of the Little Sisters has garnered much media attention in France, and has been covered on television as well as in print media. The mayor of Saint-Aignan-sur-Roe, where the mother house of the sisters is located, is publicly supporting the sisters.
“I have trouble understanding this power struggle,” Mayor Loïc Pène told the newspaper Haut Anjou. “The Sisters have my full support because I know what they represent for the town. They are well integrated and it is of local interest that they remain present. I am well aware of everything they bring. All they do besides, they do well. I only hope for a happy ending to this conflict and that the nursing home does not end up being weakened.”
A representative of the Diocese of Laval told the same newspaper that the sisters have caused their own suffering by resisting the authority of Rome. She also claimed that the reform measures the commissioners are seeking to impose were already in the works years earlier.
“The situation is difficult, it is true, so much so that it is now in the hands of Rome. But from the beginning we have been involved in adjustments and recommendations and not at all in conflict or grievances,” said diocesan spokeswoman Véronique Larat. “The adjustments, by the way, had already been proposed by Bishops Billé and Maillard, the predecessors of Bishop Scherrer. He simply took a position in continuity with them.”
“The Sisters are very troubled by this situation due to [their] disobedience, [and] many people are suffering,” Larat added. “We are still calling for reconciliation and for them to allow the pontifical commissioner appointed by Rome to join them.”
Commenting on the impending destruction of the order, Risposte Catholique wrote in September: “Everywhere these nuns are very much loved by the clergy and the people. What will become of the forty or so nuns who will no longer be? What are we going to do with their retirement homes, the elderly they welcome, the staff who are employed there? We thus see bloodless dioceses amputate their last living forces, in a sort of self-annihilation of moribund churches.”
Institute of Franciscan friars destroyed in a similar way
The destruction of the Little Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer follows a pattern similar to the Vatican-induced collapse of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FFI), an order of Franciscans that followed a more traditional pattern of community life and that made free use of the traditional Latin Mass in accordance with the rites prevailing in 1962. Although the friars were within their legal rights to use the traditional form of the Mass in accordance with the papal motu proprio Summorum pontificum, their order came under attack for such practices by Bishop Braz de Aviz and others who frowned upon them. Among them, it seems, is Pope Francis himself.
Just as in the case of the Little Sisters, Braz de Aviz brought about the removal of the superiors of the FFI from their positions, and even the founder, Fr. Stefano Maria Manelli, was sent into house arrest at the age of 81. Five years later, he remains under house arrest. Other superiors were sent to remote houses of the order.
Likewise, a commissioner was placed over the order, Fr. Fidenzio Volpi, who seemed implacably hostile to the order’s charism and its works in general. Under his leadership, the FFI’s seminary was completely shut down, as was its book publishing service. A majority of the brothers left and were incardinated in other dioceses, and at least 15 cloisters of the order reportedly have closed their doors. The Traditional Latin Mass was only permitted by special permission from the commissioner.
Moreover, just as in the case of the Little Sisters, the members of the FFI never were given any specific reason for the imposition of the commissioner, except vague hints that they were too “traditional” for the tastes of the Vatican authorities, including, presumably, Pope Francis, who has refused to accept appeals from the order’s members. Within a few years, a thriving and beloved institute of Franciscans had become a shell of its former self.
Contact the author at [email protected].
Association of Support for the Little Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer
Main webpage in English: https://www.soutienpsm.com/severedifficulties
(You may also select French, Italian, or Spanish at upper right of webpage.)
Chez Mr Marcel MIGNOT
1 Avenue de Montréal
Résidence Montréal 2
72000 Le Mans
Email: [email protected]
To sign the petition of support: https://www.soutienpsm.com/signer-la-petition-anglais
Click here for links to coverage by the French blog Riposte Catholique (can be translated to English easily with Google Translate – in Chrome browser right click on webpage and select “Translate to English”).