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Vatican pressures nuns: a chronology

The following is a chronology of Vatican efforts to intervene in a Women’s Ordination Worldwide conference in Dublin:

A March 20 letter from the Congregation for the Institutes of the Consecrated Life directed Sr. Christine Vladimiroff, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, to issue a formal precept of obedience forbidding Chittister to either “attend or participate” in the Women’s Ordination Worldwide conference June 29-July 2 in Dublin. The letter threatens unspecified “just penalties.”

Vladimiroff responded to Archbishop Piergiorgio Silvano Nesti, secretary of the congregation, April 16 requesting a meeting in Rome the week of May 28-June 1. On May 9, she received a letter granting the appointment.

On May 8, Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Myra Poole of London received a letter of withdrawal from keynote speaker Arunda Gnanadason of the World Council of Churches. Conference organizers said Vatican pressure prompted the withdrawal. A council spokesperson denied that.

On May 28, Vladimiroff and canonical advisors met with members of the congregation, including Nesti, and discussed the adequacy of the canons on which the precept and punishments were based. Vladimiroff was instructed to “encourage” Chittister not to go to the conference, and if Chittister did not agree, to issue the precept. Vladimiroff was also told to report to the congregation the results of the conversation.

Chittister told Vladimiroff that it is “for the good of the church” that discussion not be suppressed and that she will therefore attend the conference. Vladimiroff reported the conversation to Rome June 16. The explanation was rejected in a June 18 letter from the congregation.

On June 10 the Vatican directed Poole, a major conference organizer, to withdraw. Her superior gave her a formal precept of obedience about 10 days later.

On June 19, a recourse to “administrative procedure,” requesting clarification under canon law, was attempted by Vladimiroff and was immediately rejected. According to Vladimiroff, the congregation said the appeal was given due consideration, but it did not revoke the order for Vladimiroff to issue a formal precept of obedience. Vladimiroff declined to deliver the precept to Chittister.

-- NCR Staff

National Catholic Reporter, July 13, 2001