FAIRFIELD, Pennsylvania (LifeSiteNews) — A community of traditional nuns have rejected Vatican instructions aimed at undermining their contemplative way of life.
Catherine Bauer, the official spokeswoman for the traditional Carmelite nuns of Fairfield, Pennsylvania, has given an interview to Catholic World Report explaining the situation of these nuns in the wake of a recent apostolic visitation that took place at the end of September. She described the changes being demanded by Rome since the publication of the Vatican’s 2018 instruction Cor Orans and made it clear that the Carmelite nuns at Fairfield and in Valparaiso, Nebraska “have chosen to stand up and fight.”
“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 told Catholic World Report this month.
The Vatican instruction Cor Orans directs the individual contemplative orders that hitherto have been autonomous to join federations, thereby undercutting their individuality and their own charisms. The reform is to be done, according to this document, in light of the Second Vatican Council and “changed socio-cultural conditions.”
The Fairfield Carmelites include 25 nuns and receive about 100 inquiries per year. They have a hermit priest as their chaplain, Father Maximilian Mary Dean, who offers for them the traditional Latin Mass. They live a traditional Carmelite cloistered life with much austerity and many hours of prayer.
LifeSiteNews reporter Jim Hale interviewed Father Dean in October, and the hermit explained then that the September visitation aimed at undermining the charism of the traditional Carmelite nuns, essentially urging them to join larger associations, to open up their monastery to the outside world. Father Dean called this move, organized by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the head of the Congregation for Religious Life, a plan to “overhaul” contemplative orders. From his own experience with other tradition-minded orders such as the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, but also with the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Hanceville, Alabama (founded by Mother Angelica), he knows that these apostolic visitations are intended to undermine traditional ways of life in monasteries.
In her November 20 interview with Catholic World Report, Catherine Bauer explained how, under the new reform rules inspired by Cor Orans, the Carmelite nuns would lose their autonomy, their oversight of the formation of their novices, and their financial independence. “It gives officials in the Holy See access to the financial assets of the nuns and their properties,” she said. “It gives them the ability to take control of the monastery, evict the nuns, and then have financial control over the property.”
Furthermore, Miss Bauer also described some of the details of the recent apostolic visitation, during which the nuns were visited by two Carmelite nuns and one Carmelite father at the behest of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in Rome.
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575 Market Street, Suite 1800
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One of the defenders of this visitation and a critic of the Fairfield and Valparaiso nuns is Sister Gabriela of the Incarnation of the Carmelites in Flemington, New Jersey. As LifeSiteNews has reliably learned, she has been charged with rewriting the traditional 1990 Discalced Carmelite Constitutions to conform with Cor Orans. Without disclaiming her prominent role in the Bergoglian reform of the Carmelite contemplative orders, she is now posting numerous articles critical of the Farifield nuns, trying to show them to be irrational and disobedient. She posted some of these articles on the website Wherepeteris.com, which has dedicated itself to defending Pope Francis against any critic who opposes his revolutionary agenda.
As Miss Bauer stated, the official reason the visitation took place was related to the transfer of a group of Carmelite nuns from a Philadelphia convent in 2021. LifeSiteNews reported that the traditional Carmelites from the Fairfield/Valparaiso Carmelite houses saw themselves discouraged from assisting a group of aging Carmelites in Philadelphia after Archbishop Charles Chaput had left his position and his successor, Archbishop Nelson J. Perez, had taken over. The younger nuns met with obstacles and were not able to continue to live out their traditional charism with the traditional Mass in Philadelphia, and therefore they left.
Miss Bauer explained the situation as follows:
The Valparaiso Carmelites had been asked to re-found a Carmelite community in Philadelphia. There were three elderly nuns there, one of whom has since died and a second has entered a nursing home. Valparaiso agreed, and sent six nuns, with another three coming from Elysburg (now part of Fairfield) [the Elysburg nuns joined Fairfield]. In 2021, the nuns wanted to return to Valparaiso, as they believed the implementation of Cor Orans was interfering with their way of life. The nine nuns did return to Valparaiso, along with two aspirants who had joined the community. Due to the proximity of the Fairfield Carmelites, they received the apostolic visitation to determine what had happened in the Philadelphia convent.
But as it turned out, that apostolic visitation seemed to have other aims. States the spokeswoman of the Fairfield nuns: “But we believe an issue of greater importance to those visiting was to assess Fairfield’s observance of Cor Orans.”
Father Maximilian Dean published last month a comment which confirms these words of Miss Bauer. Regarding the September 25-29 visitation in Fairfield, he stated: “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 from Philadelphia was used as a pretext by the Congregation to go after these traditional monasteries.”
Miss Bauer added that they know of 60 monasteries which are against the changes imposed upon them by Pope Francis’ reform plan of organizing the monasteries into associations and of increasing the influence of larger associations upon the spirituality of the individual monasteries.
“But the Fairfield Carmelites are the only ones willing to take a stand,” she expounded.
“I think the others believe that if they lay low, things will blow over. Since the Fairfield nuns received the apostolic visitation, however, it is their head on the chopping block. Our nuns have chosen to stand up and fight, even if they will be doing so alone.”
However, these traditional Carmelite nuns take this step of refusing to go along with Cor Orans with a heavy heart and not easily. Miss Bauer told the Catholic World Report:
The Fairfield nuns do not want to be in this position in which they are being forced to choose between their charism and the heart of the Church. They love the Magisterium, they love the Church and its history. They have no intention of being schismatic, nor do they want to disobey rules. They are Carmelites, and they are Catholic. But this is their Church, too, and they shouldn’t be forced to choose between 500 years of Carmelite history and being in the heart of the Church.
Bishop Athanasius Schneider, when visiting the United States in October of this year, gave several interviews in which the situation of the Fairfield nuns was discussed. He has made it clear that they should remain loyal to their traditional charism. The nuns, the prelate explained to LifeSiteNews in October, should continue to live their charism “with a ecclesiastical spirit, sentire cum Ecclesia [i.e., thinking with the Church], without revolt, without doing polemics, continuing to love and to pray for the pope and for the bishops evermore.”
Bishop Schneider explained that these nuns could say the following to Pope Francis: “Holy Father, we cannot here obey because this will harm Mother Church. Evidently, we cannot collaborate in harming such a great treasure of our holy Mother Church or of our cloistered charism which the Church blessed since Saint Theresa, [for] more than four centuries. We will deprive the Church [if we obey], we will harm the Church, and we cannot collaborate in harming the Church.”
On October 15, Schneider told Phil Lawler in another interview about the Fairfield situation that he sees how “the Holy See unfortunately tries to change their proper charism to be cloistered – so not to go out of the cloister – and so the pope mandated, Pope Francis with his document, the Vatican document on cloistered nuns [Cor Orans], to force them to join so-called federations with the compulsory participation in periodical meetings, information sessions outside the cloister in different places, so that the sisters have to travel and then periodically to go out from the cloister. And so this is a destruction, really, of the precious gift of God for the strict cloistered life.”
“I think the sisters have to resist,” he added, saying that because “it is against entire tradition of the Church” and a “destruction of the cloistered life,” the sisters “cannot obey, even it comes from Rome.”
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who recently visited the United States, also commented on the situation of the contemplative orders and the call from Rome to reform them.
“The danger that I see is this, that in the Congregation for the Religious Life, there are people who have no understanding [of] the vita contemplativa,” who think that the contemplative life “has no practical sense,” Cardinal Müller told LifeSiteNews in October.
“But the sense [purpose] of our human, Christian existence is the adoration of God without our own interests.”
There exists between man and God a “communion of love” and, therefore, according to Müller, “all the tradition of the Church respected not only the active life, but also the contemplation,” the “two wings of the religious life.”
“[It makes] no sense to destroy [it], to suppress [it],” the cardinal stated.
“No Pope has the right to define the ecclesiastical life of this discipline once and forever,” he added.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò had already denounced these visitations and reform plans for the contemplative orders on October 1, not long after the apostolic visitation had taken place in Fairfield, Pennsylvania. He talked about “a hatred and an iconoclastic fury towards the Communities of Contemplative Life, and in a particular way against those tied to Tradition and the Ancient Rite” that is nowadays to be found in the Vatican. In no uncertain terms, the Italian prelate rejected the Bergoglian reform plan when he wrote: “I consider it my precise duty as a Pastor to denounce in no uncertain terms the systematic work of demolition being carried out by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, whose leaders make no secret of their aversion to any form of consecrated life.”
Different sources, with whom LifeSiteNews discussed this situation in Fairfield, some of whom are priests and lawyers, think that the Carmelite nuns who wish to maintain their traditional charism should accept that their cloisters will be dissolved by the Vatican and subsequently continue to live and pray together in their traditional charism as a private lay association. One source referenced as an example a group of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate in Italy who have done exactly that.
Liz Yore, a lawyer and adviser to the Coalition of Canceled Priests commented to LifeSite as follows: “As someone who is intimately familiar with the apostolic visitation at Fairfield, I would urge the sisters to remain firm and resolute in their Carmelite charism. These contrived Vatican directed visitations threaten the very foundation of Carmelite cloistered spirituality. These holy women need the fierce protection and ongoing support of Catholic laity in the face of a coordinated onslaught by this papacy to undermine, secularize, and monetize this cloistered order.”