This third part of my intervention in defense of the Nuns of Pienza follows a first part dedicated to the sequence of events (here) and a second on the canonical measures adopted by the Holy See, with the collaboration of the Diocese of Chiusi-Pienza-Montepulciano and the Piceno Federation of the Benedictine Order (here).
I. A brief summary of the latest developments
The second part ended by mentioning the interrogations of relatives of the Nuns conducted by the Carabinieri at the end of February . At the beginning of March, the press reported on these facts, announcing the possible opening of a file at the competent prosecutor’s office (here and here), but a few days later – on March 16 – Corriere di Siena reported that no investigation was underway, that no elements sufficient to constitute a crime had been found, and that the matter was considered to be a matter for ecclesiastical authority: “The affair does not present crimes to be investigated but merely internal questions of the Church, and pertaining to the rules of the Benedictine order and the convent, therefore falling within the perimeter of justice and ecclesiastical law” (here).
This confirms the anomaly of recourse to the “secular arm” by the Curia and the Benedictine Federation, which was hastily set aside because it was clearly abusive and irregular.
It should also be remembered that the decision of the Diocese and the Federation to issue a statement against the Nuns caused an uproar and caused serious damage to the reputation of the Religious, defined by the press as “rebel nuns” because of the generic and defamatory accusations addressed to them by ecclesiastical authority. If the Nuns were forced to publicly protect their good name, this was necessary due to the too casual imprudence of the Curia of Pienza.
II. The Lack of Response to the “Remonstrationes”
After the Apostolic Visitation, which was decided on by the Roman Dicastery without providing any reasons in advance and without communicating the results, the Nuns saw the emissaries of the Vatican appear in Pienza who claimed to execute decrees not regularly notified, and on February 18 the Sisters sent – according to the norm of canon 1734, §1 – their Remonstrationes asking to be informed of the allegations made against them so that they could defend themselves.
The Holy See should have responded to these Remonstrationes within the term of thirty days (canon 1735), but this did not happen, adding a further irregularity to those already committed. On March 20, a new decree of the Dicastery was delivered, dated March 14, 2023, with protocol number 27887/2014, signed by the Prefect Cardinal Braz de Aviz and the Secretary Msgr. Rodriguez Carballo, with which the decisions taken in the previous decree are reiterated, with the only exception of a “concession” of sixty days to the Abbess and the Prioress to choose two distinct communities in which to be definitively transferred. In essence, the Roman Authority continues not to explain either the reasons that determined the Visitation, nor the results of the same that should have been indicated in a final report. This suggests that there are no concrete reasons behind these measures and that the Vatican's action is entirely specious.
It should also be noted that the new decree combines several provisions without formal distinction, intended for Religious as a Community and as individual Sisters, Nuns and their Superiors. And if in the first decree there was talk of “particular conditions of the community”, in the second the expression “following the critical issues that emerged from the Apostolic Visit”does not add any further element that legitimizes the disciplinary measures taken. Rather, it highlights the clumsy attempt to arbitrarily give substance to indeterminate and unexpressed accusations (can. 36, §1). And it must be added that no warning or reproach was ever formulated before ordering the Visitation, neither to the entire Community nor to the Superiors. If, therefore, the purpose of disciplinary action – as Charity requires (Mt 18:15-18) even before the law – is the correction of a deficiency, for the Sisters the impossibility is evident of amending themselves from a fault that has never even been mentioned: truly a singular way of “animating and regulating the practice of the evangelical counsels” on the part of the Dicastery in charge of this.
III. The “Concessions” of the New Decree
Beyond the fact that the decree refers indiscriminately to several recipients, it is disconcerting that it simulates some mitigation of the provisions previously assumed with regard to the Abbess and the Prioress, where it grants the two Religious the possibility of choosing two distinct monasteries – in order to separate and isolate them in view of their “re-education” – instead of excluding the Abbess and sending the Prioress to the “monastery” of Bose, well known for its ultra-modernist positions and for the absolute absence of Benedictine charisma and cloistered life.
This pathetic attempt to offer the Superiors an alternative solution to the exclaustraction or re-education in Bose is evidently intended to induce the two Nuns, under the pressure of events and the emotional stress caused by the affair, to renounce their sacrosanct right to a defense that demonstrates their absolute extraneousness to any accusation. And this is due to the desire not to have to arrive at the explicit formulation of accusations that would prove to be specious and inconsistent. Not only that: the new decree does not explain why the severe decision of the previous one has been modified with another which, although less serious, remains unjustified until the alleged shortcomings generically indicated as “criticality” are specifically contested.
In practice, the Dicastery refuses to formulate the accusations from which the Abbess, the Prioress, and all the Nuns of Pienza should be able to defend themselves; and it limits itself to partially reducing the penalty for an unexplained crime, in order to induce them to give in for the sole purpose of avoiding worse punishments. The least that can be said is that this behavior is scandalous and blackmailing, especially on the part of those who in 2018 exhorted the Cloistered Sisters – with disrespectful language – not to let themselves be manipulated “even if they are bishops, cardinals, friars or other people” (here).
The nuns are therefore denied every elementary right to defense, making the damage to the image and reputation of the religious even more devastating. The decree does not even mention the modalities of possible appeal, while it infringes the rights of the Abbess and of the Chapter, who see the exercise of their office illegitimately and unjustifiably usurped (cf. can. 1375, §1).
IV. The New “Remonstrationes” and the Recourse to the Apostolic Signatura
The new decree of 14 March , as mentioned, refers indiscriminately to several addressees: on the one hand it confirms the provisions of the previous decree with regard to the Community, while on the other it imparts new provisions with regard to the Abbess and the Prioress. The provisions concerning the Community, inasmuch as they confirm what was already provided in the previous decree, cannot be the object of a new Remonstratio at the Dicastery, but of an Appeal to the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura – the “supreme court” of the Holy See. This appeal was promptly forwarded by the Nuns on March 30.
The Abbess and Prioress, on the other hand, being recipients of new provisions, presented two new Remonstrationes to the Dicastery on March 30 with which they ask for the revocation of the provisions of the decree of March 14 and access to the documents. Among these there is the entire documentation relating to the canonical erection of the Monastery Maria Tempio dello Spirito Santo, which, as we saw in the first part of our intervention, were manipulated by the previous Ordinary of Pienza, Bishop Stefano Manetti, and likewise the acts which led to the disposition of the Apostolic Visitation and those concerning its final report. The Nuns also ask for explanations to be given on the at least anomalous use of the same protocol number for different documents.
V. The Position of the Vatican
The story of the Monastery of Pienza brings out, once again, the disastrous situation in which the Roman Curia finds itself. The Dicastery headed by Cardinal Braz de Aviz, in particular, shows that it does not even know how to give a semblance of legitimacy to the acts it issues, adding the arrogance and authoritarianism of the Prefect and the Secretary to the incompetence and approximation of the personnel responsible for drafting the documents. Faced with certain macroscopic errors, one wonders if the decrees have been checked by a canonist, and how it is possible – if not by resorting to the “copy-paste” function of a word processor – that even the protocol numbers are unreliable.
It remains to be seen if, at this point, there will be someone in Rome who will resign himself to following the canonical norms and above all to acting with justice, because at stake is not only the image of the Apostolic See – which has already been widely compromised – but also the life and serenity of thirteen nuns whose only fault is wanting to follow the Lord according to the Benedictine charism within the Tradition of the Church.
The alternative that is envisaged is the perpetuation of a tyrannical climate repeatedly denounced by the unfortunate who work in the Roman Curia, resorting to the extreme path of sanctions against women religious. And this would be even more scandalous, if only it were compared with other really serious cases for which maximum indulgence is guaranteed if not total impunity. The scandal of the remission of the excommunication of the sacrilegious and perverted Father Rupnik – whose horrendous and very expensive mosaics disfigure the churches of the city of Rome and the world – should make us understand the unequal treatment reserved for the nepotes of Santa Marta, which Cardinal Mueller has icastically summarized, noting how Bergoglio’s friends enjoy a privileged status (here), while has enemies are the object of the most ruthless embezzlement.
VI. New Pressures being placed on the Sisters
If the second decree of the Dicastery for Religious Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life has not in any way contributed to restoring serenity to the nuns, it cannot be said that the action of the Benedictine nuns of the Piceno Federation has shown sensitivity and respect towards them.
Mother Daniela Vacca – designated by the Dicastery as administrator and placed in charge of designating the new Superior – again presented herself at the doors of the Monastery together with another religious sister, buzzing the intercom and phoning compulsively for hours in an attempt to enter, despite the fact that the enforceability of the decree was suspended by the appeal presented by the Nuns, to the point of forcing Mother Diletta to tell them that she would call the local carabinieri if they did not leave.
It was then the turn of other nuns of the Monastery of origin of the Nuns of Pienza – Santa Maria delle Rose of Sant’Angelo in Pontano – who also came to attempt a raid to convince the sisters to yield. It is not known in what capacity these religious presented themselves, who sent them, or who finally authorized them to break the cloister to which they are bound. The pretext was obviously innocent: to make sure that they were well and that they were acting freely, without constraint on the part of the Superiors. But had not the carabinieri already verified these aspects, for which there was no element to support the insinuated suspicions that they were subornate or psychologically manipulated? And what a hypocritical solicitude this was, if we consider that neither the Holy See nor the Curia have been concerned to guarantee either material or spiritual of subsistence – going so far as to prohibit any economic support to the Monastery and forcing the Sisters to travel for miles in order to attend Mass and the celebrations of the Easter Triduum!
The religious life of the Nuns of Pienza has been seriously compromised by a grotesque series of aggressions, threats and intimidation that have involved the press and have damaged not only their reputation, but also their inner peace and their psychophysical well-being. And all this for what reason, and for what purpose? Beyond the economic interests of the subordinates, interested in dislodging the Sisters in order to dispose of the former Seminary and allocate it to a reception center for refugees or sell it in order to turn it into a luxurious resort, it is clearly the will of the Dicastery to punish the Religious for their decision to draw close to Tradition and the ancient Mass, in the context of a generalized attack on the Monasteries of contemplative life.
Being accused of this crime of “insulting the Council” – and even more of “insulting His Majesty,” that is, Bergoglio and his zealous minions – has succeeded in persuading the nuns of the need to definitively abandon the reformed rite and to exclusively embrace the traditional liturgy. And if a more prudent and paternal attitude would perhaps have delayed this process of “conversion,” the arrogance and authoritarianism of the Dicastery, the Diocese and the Piceno Federation have strengthened the determination of the Nuns, strengthening the community bond, fidelity to the Abbess and their unanimous will. It cannot be said that the Vatican comes out well: strong with the weak and weak with the strong, as always happens when one prefers to follow the mentality of the world and deny the principles of the Gospel.
It is regrettable to note that – whatever the decision of the authorities involved – the last thing that interests the mercenaries who infest the Roman Curia is to exercise concretely that Charity that we have too often heard mentioned in words, while they practice to the highest degree that “clericalism” against which their leader has lashed out over and over again.
And while the Roman bureaucrats did not hesitate to deprive this community of the means of subsistence, the Nuns organized themselves to face the most urgent needs by founding the Association “Maria Tempio dello Spirito Santo.” This initiative will give the faithful – who are also victims of these scandalous purges – the opportunity to bear concrete witness to their support for women religious, who represent an indispensable spiritual reference in the local ecclesial fabric. It will be interesting to see how the Vatican responds to a showing of support from the laity, whom the proponents of the Bergoglian “synodal path” seem to consider important in the Church. The Association will allow the faithful to help the Nuns with donations, bequests, or legacies, and later it will also be possible [for Italians] to allocate their “5 per mille” to the Sisters as part of their income tax return.
Whoever would like to help the Sisters may send their offering to the account of the Associazione “Maria Tempio dello Spirito Santo” at [the Italian bank] BancoPosta, IBAN code: IT84Q0760114500001065644401
But if material help to the nuns is certainly important, no less important is spiritual help, which each of us can give them with prayer and penance, making these days of Holy Week fruitful.
On the eve of the Holy Triduum, in which we contemplate the Mysteries of the Savior’s Passion and Death in preparation for the Passover of the Resurrection, we are all called, as living members of the Mystical Body, to unite ourselves to the sufferings of Christ and His Church. This passio Ecclesiæ, which is accomplished in the individual faithful and in the entire ecclesial body, represents a salutary purification: it shows us, as happened 1990 years ago, the few who remain at the foot of the Cross and the many who flee, those who deny Christ, and those who follow the Sanhedrin.
Let us therefore accompany the Lord, with a supernatural spirit, along the way to Calvary. Let us follow Him, together with the Pious Women and the many good souls who love Him, in His immolation to the Father for our salvation and that of the whole world. And let us pray with faith that He may give strength to those who still today complete in their own flesh what is lacking in His sufferings, for the sake of His body which is the Church (Col 1:24).
+ Carlo Maria Viganò, Archbishop
5 April 2023
Feria IV Hebdomadæ Sanctæ