HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (LifeSiteNews) — Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania has made a public plea in defense of the discalced Carmelite nuns of Fairfield, Pennsylvania, who are living the traditional Carmelite way of life.
Bishop Gainer is asking that “the Holy See would grant a dispensation.” In light of the new Vatican constitution Cor Orans, these nuns are under pressure to undergo certain changes, yet they wish to remain loyal to their traditional charism which goes back to St. Teresa of Avila. A documentary about the Fairfield nuns, published on March 2, is making just that plea to Rome – and asking others to pray for this intention or even to write letters to the nuns’ bishop – that these nuns receive a dispensation from the new Vatican regulations.
As the producers of Lux Veritatis Media write:
This documentary is intended to show the countercultural, “off the grid,” daily life of these Carmelites of Fairfield, PA through their eyes, as well as the experiences of the many volunteers and supporters of their community. It also sheds light on the concerns Cor Orans brings to their community’s Constitutions and explains why they desire to obtain a dispensation from Cor Orans.
Bishop Gainer, who is interviewed in the documentary, shows how much he is impressed by the faith, joyfulness, and life of the nuns. The 25 nuns produce their own food and clothes and live without electricity and running water. They are secluded from the world, never seen by outsiders. Their self-sufficiency helps them to be separated from the world.
Nevertheless, the new 2018 instruction Cor Orans wants these autonomous monasteries to join larger federations, which would entail that these secluded nuns would occasionally have to leave their seclusion for meetings. The Mother Superior of the Fairfield nuns explained in the film that to join such a federation would be “an intrusion into the family spirit,” since one would mix with religious who “do not have the same formation.” This “can cause disturbance,” she added. In her view, such a federation could also “impede relationships with the hierarchy” and with the bishop, the Pope, and with the Prefect of the Congregation of Religious, with whom these nuns have their own independent contact. To join such a federation of religious orders, Mother Superior explained, “would complicate and muddle the waters a bit there.”
Bishop Gainer echoed Mother Superior’s concerns. Speaking about the request that these monasteries now join federations and attend meetings, he explained that this change could have an “influence on the internal life” of the monastery. He described how, as part of the ceremony of the solemn vows of a Carmelite nun, a black veil is placed over her face.
“It is the idea that she is not visible to the world,” the prelate expounded. “She has made a solemn vow to stably remain there in that monastery, in that life of hiddenness.”
The way these nuns are living seems to be very attractive.
“Their track record shows they are a magnet to draw women from all over,” he added.
Speaking about Cor Orans, the bishop continued: “Recently there has been a document, from the Holy See, that suggests that all monastic communities, especially female monastic communities, should belong to a federation, a larger grouping, which would require meetings and a certain amount of consensus among the members of the federation which would then have an influence upon the internal life of the member monasteries.”
Bishop Gainer added that “it has never been the tradition of the discalced Carmelites to have that kind of a membership in a larger consultative body.”
Father John Szada, an exorcist of the Diocese of Harrisonburg, was also interviewed for the documentary. He stressed that one of the things St. Teresa of Avila was very insistent upon was “that every one of her foundations were independent and able to live their life in their own local community. And I think that’s what is so important.”
“They should be allowed to be who they are, and follow the spirit and charism of St. Teresa, that is all.”
“We are hoping,” stated Bishop Gainer, “that, from this document Cor Orans, the Holy See would grant a dispensation so that it wouldn’t be obligatory for our Carmel and any others that would make a similar request because following the law would be too burdensome.” That, he added, is “why we have dispensations.” In his eyes, such a dispensation would be “the mercy of Christ at work in the Church.” Gainer also reminded us that the law “is meant to bring us closer to Christ, not to be an obstacle that keeps us from following Christ.”
LifeSite reported in September of last year that the Fairfield nuns had just received an apostolic visitation from Rome. In November of 2022, Catherine Bauer, the lay spokeswoman of the monastery made a comment in an interview that these nuns – together with their motherhouse in Valparaiso, Nebraska – will “stand up and fight” for their charism and way of life. “We believe there are those in leadership in Rome who believe that contemplative orders don’t have a place in the Church any longer,” Bauer added.
Father Maxilian Mary Dean, the chaplain of the Fairfield nuns and a hermit, gave LifeSite’s Jim Hale an interview in October last year, in which he, too, determined that the apostolic visitation aimed at undermining the charism of the traditional nuns. He called then this move, organized by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the head of the Congregation for Religious Life, a plan to “overhaul” contemplative orders. Fr. Dean then also posted a comment under the LifeSite report where he stated that during the apostolic visitation of last September, “the co-visitators actually sent spies. They discussed the need to stop me from bringing the sacraments and to switch the nuns over to the Novus Ordo Mass; they discussed strategies for turning the benefactors away from these traditional communities.”
“I am not permitted to write here what they actually did during the visitation itself,” he continued, “but let’s just say that I was 100% correct in my assessment and that the nuns pulling [away] from Philadelphia was used as a pretext by the Congregation to go after these traditional monasteries.”
Beside this more painful aspect of the story of the Fairfield nuns, the aforementioned documentary on their life and charism is a very touching testimony of God’s Grace on earth. The nuns’ lives and prayers will deeply touch everyone who watches.