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FAIRFIELD, Pennsylvania (LifeSiteNews) A plan by Pope Francis ‘to overhaul’ the communities of cloistered nuns is threatening their way of life.

LifeSite has published today an interview with Father Maximilian Mary Dean, a former Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate and the chaplain to the discalced Carmelite nuns of Fairfield, Pennsylvania, who received an Apostolic Visitation last week. In light of this development, Father Maximilian described to LifeSite’s Jim Hale the recent history of the visitation to these nuns, and how there now exists a plan to “overhaul cloistered women’s communities.”

As LifeSite reported earlier, these Carmelite nuns live with the traditional Latin Mass and altogether desire to live the traditional rule of life as prescribed by St. Theresa of Avila. From September 25-29, they received an Apostolic Visitation. It was not clear at the time what the purpose of this visitation really was. In Fairfield, there is a thriving community of 25 nuns. Valparaiso, Nebraska is their motherhouse.

However, as their chaplain, Father Maximilian, now tells Jim Hale, the Congregation for Religious under Cardinal JoãoBraz de Aviz aims at reforming the Carmelite charism altogether. This development goes back to 2016, says the priest. At that time, Pope Francis published a document [Vultum Dei quaerere ] “basically announcing that he was going to overhaul cloistered women’s communities,” Father Maximilian explains. In May of the following year, 2017, the Father General of all the Discalced Carmelites in the U.S., Father Saverio Cannistrà, then met with 162 Carmelite nuns in St. Louis, Missouri from May 25-29, explaining to them the meaning of the papal document. (Important to mention here is that two years later, Father Saverio was made a member of Braz de Aviz’ Congregation by Pope Francis.)

Father Maximilian describes what then happened. At that Missouri meeting, representatives of the Carmelites of Valparaiso and of Fairfield were present, as well. These cloistered nuns, who usually never leave their cloisters “had to leave, under obedience,” which was “kind of shocking.” And then they had to “stay in hotels, not even a seminary or a monastery,” Father explains. “It’s bizarre.”

Father went on to tell Jim Hale that he later received several reports of what had happened during that meeting with Father General. Father General told these nuns “that the times have changed and that they, contemplative, cloistered nuns, need to adapt to the times… that they can’t live the way they were living before,” the priest recounted.

Father General told these nuns, according to Father Maxilimilian, that  “they had to get rid of the grates, the turn, the grill, even that they needed to start teaching.” These elements here mentioned – the turn, or the grate – are each elements that keep the Carmelite nuns reverently separate from the world. One may usually only speak with these nuns through a wooden grate, or grill, never in direct contact.

Father shows his indignation with these novelties and insists that “these are cloistered Carmelite nuns. They’re called to be a hidden heart, love in the Church.” He describes the nuns’ “charism, you know, to be love in the heart of the church. So he [Father General] is telling them that they have to get with the times,” Father Maximilian continued.

Father General essentially told the Carmelite nuns of the entire U.S. that they had to give up their Carmelite charism and specific identity and way of life.

Some of the nuns at that 2017 meeting, Father reveals, “were just in tears.” They were “no longer allowed to live their charism.”

Father Maximilian tied this development with the publication of Pope Francis’ document Cor Orans which demanded from all autonomous female monasteries that they join an association of monasteries, thereby joining a mixed collective entity.

It is here that the story of the Carmelite nuns of Fairfield and Valparaiso begins: they had been asked by the two  elderly nuns remaining in the Philadelphia monastery that first brought the devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux to the United States to help them out and give them some of their own young nuns. However, as Father Maximilian recounts in his interview with Jim Hale, that Philadelphia monastery had already joined an association of monasteries, and they would not let these younger nuns live their Carmelite life with the traditional Latin Mass and their traditional customs, as they had been previously promised by then-Archbishop Charles Chaput (by now retired). Not only the Father General, but also the archdiocese of Philadelphia under Archbishop Nelson Perez, were “forcing” these nuns “to be part of this association,” and the traditional nuns from Fairfield and Valparaiso were not willing to accept this. Fairfield and Valparaiso “realized that they went after their daughters,” and so they decided to call back their own nuns. That there was already then talk about a possible Apostolic Visitation to Philadelphia influenced their decision. The young nuns thus left Philadelphia on April 9, with tears, but also joy.

“Essentially, they were not permitted to live the life that they came to live,” the priest explains. But these Fairfield and Valparaiso monasteries, once they called back their younger nuns from Philadelphia, knew that “they were now on the radar” of Rome and that “there might be consequences.”

“And now what’s playing out is that last week they received the news that the Vatican has decided to run an Apostolic Visitation of Philadelphia,” Father Maximilian explains to Jim Hale.

However, as sources have told LifeSite, that short visitation to Philadelphia was merely a small, friendly visit, since the last survivor had already had handed over her monastery to be used other purposes. (LifeSite will have soon a separate report on how the birthplace of the American veneration of St. Therese of Lisieux was essentially closed to cloistered nuns, and is soon to be turned into a museum and a retreat center. The Archdiocese chose to discourage the traditional nuns of Fairfield and Valparaiso from staying there, and rather turned the entire building in something other than a house of prayers, a place for love in the heart of the Church.)

Father Maximilian makes it clear that any announcement of an Apostolic Visitation in our days means that the Vatican desires to take over and reform a monastery or order. He speaks here based on his own earlier experience, since he is a former member of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FFI), whose original charism was destroyed under the pontificate of Pope Francis, also with the help of an assigned Apostolic Commissioner.

But basically today, from what we’ve seen consistently over and over again, an Apostolic Visitation means that the Vatican has decided you have a problem,” Father Maximilian states.

“So the apostolic visitation is just to confirm that there is a problem. Whatever that problem is. And then the next step  from there is to assign a new superior, and that’s what’s called an Apostolic Commission.”

This also means that someone from outside the monastery or religious community is made superior of that community.

Father Maximilian calls this method “terrorism, because of how it is done.”

As an example, this priest describes how the FFI was dismantled. The order was taken over by another priest, Father Fidenzio Volpi, who then ordered that the rector of their seminary be replaced. That replacement took place when the new rector simply showed up at the seminary with a letter in his hand stating that he was to take over the seminary with immediate effect.

From his own experience, Father Maximilian knows that the Vatican will always seize any opportunity to foment division in religious orders they deem problematic. The Vatican then uses these internal conflicts, to start a visitation and “interview the individual sister” to see whether there exist divisions, he explained. These nuns who are being interviewed by the visitors are then “not allowed to talk to anybody else in the community about the interview.”

Some of these rules were once meant to protect the privacy of each nun, but under the current regime in Rome, they are used as a weapon against a community.

As another specific example, the current chaplain of the Fairfield nuns then brings up the Poor Clares of Hanceville, Alabama, the monastery of the late Mother Angelica. They too received a commissioner, in their case after some internal conflicts, and that woman religious made sure that all nuns with inclinations toward the traditional Latin Mass were “sent home,” as the commissioner herself explained to Father in 2014. “We sent all those women home,” she told him. “They were fine women, but none of them had a vocation.”

“It sounds like a hiss from hell,” Father Maximilian comments.

That Alabama monastery of Poor Clares had – before that visitation and before they were commissioned in 2010 – about 45 nuns, but it had only 13 when Father visited them in 2014. Subsequently, they had to shut down one of their foundations in 2018, upon order of the Holy See.

LifeSiteNew’s own research shows that Mother Angelica’s own monastery – which she founded as well as the Catholic TV channel EWTN – now displays on its website a quote from the pro-LGBT Dominican priest, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe. Because of his presence at a conference in 2014, EWTN chose not to be present at the event. But now Mother Angelica’s own monastery quotes Fr. Radcliffe on their website. This, indeed, is a very symbolic sign of how much that community has been changed after the Apostolic Visitation.

Father Maximilian now recounts these stories for us so that we may be alerted and warned, able to understand what some Carmelite nuns may decide to do in the very near future. But he also does so in order to warn other orders and religious communities about the looming dangers.

The priest admits that, before the dismantlement of his flourishing FFI community, which had 400 friars, he himself was “naive.” He thought “Oh, Holy Mother Church is coming to help us,” when he learned about the visitation of the FFI. There had been just five disgruntled friars, and that was enough for the Vatican to enter into the order and to destroy its charism. They removed the founder of the FFI, Father Stefano Manelli, without warning. Manelli had served at Saint Padre Pio’s Masses as an altar boy over 1,000 times.

Father Maximilian also reveals that the Fairfield community had received warnings that Vatican people were trying to get to their donors and thereby reduce their funding. They also sent two spies to take photos of their monastic property, who, when discovered, drove off in their car. Another warning the Fairfield nuns received is that the Vatican aims at removing Father Maximilian as their chaplain.

Thus, Father Maximilian’s interview with LifeSiteNews aims also at protecting himself. He insists that he is not suicidal, so should he come to any harm, this should not be seen as an accident.

Moreover, Father Maximilian points out that a religious community cannot necessarily rely on the kindness of their local bishop, since he had witnessed the removal of at least two bishops – early retirement after a sudden strange scandal – after they had tried to rescue some of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.

Further defending the traditional American Carmelites, this chaplain further reveals in his interview with LifeSiteNews that the new archbishop of Philadelphia, Nelson J. Perez, has been telling other bishops at the USCCB that “the nuns in Valparaiso and Fairfield are a cult and that these women who are just trying to live a hidden life of love in the heart of the church are a cult.”

These visitors, he explains, have no interest “in dialogue;” they are coming “with a desired outcome.” So if you let these visitations in, Father Maximilian continues, “they’re just going to destroy the vocations and the way of life.”

But the good chaplain also insists that it is not only the traditional Latin Mass Carmelite nuns who are on the radar. The contemplative life in the entire Church is at stake. That is why he quotes the expression of St. Therese of Avila: “If the contemplative fails, the battle is lost.” And Father is determined that the contemplative will not fail.

“We are not going to lose,” he says. “The Church is not going to lose the battle because we’re compromising our life [which we are not intending to do]. We are going to be faithful to the end.”

One might see here that a final battle is approaching. Will Our Lord allow the Heart of His Church to be pierced through an attack on the contemplative orders of the Church? And, if so, will then not also come soon her recovery and “resurrection”?  Faithful Catholics are called to resist and to stand by these innocent and prayerful nuns who are indispensable for the Church.

UPDATE, Oct. 6, 2021:  The Poor Clares’ website has removed the quote from Fr. Radcliffe! Here’s a screenshot of the previous website: