Pope Francis has issued a new Apostolic Constitution, Vultum Dei quaerere, establishing the foundation of a change in the law for the monasteries of cloistered nuns.
Mater Ecclesiae monastery is seen in the extreme lower left of this morning’s web-cam shot taken from the perspective of an office of Vatican Radio in the gardens of Vatican City. The monastery was established by Saint John Paul II in order to have cloistered nuns praying away within Vatican City State. The monastery has a short lived history:
- Order of Saint Clare (1994–1999)
- Discalced Carmelites (1999–2004)
- Benedictine nuns (2004–2009)
- Visitation nuns (2009–2012)
The problem was not that there was a monastery in the gardens of Vatican City – although that in itself had a multitude of difficulties – but that oversight of the monastery was given to the SS, that is, the Secretariat of State. That in itself is surely because of the keen interest of Pope John Paul in contemplative life, particularly that of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns whose more traditional form of life he himself personally defended as the Pope. And while the SS is the arm of the Pope himself, none of those working there could be equated with the sainted Pontiff. The interventions of these men into the lives of these generous women were far reaching.
There was talk of a surreal ideology, a desire to combine religious not only of different houses of the same religious Order (which was already being done), but also from different religious orders so as to make Mater Ecclesiae monastery a kind of Catholic and cloistered Taizé. Of course, this was not at all the idea of either JPII or BXVI. The nuns would have none of it. So much for respecting the genius of women! They didn’t seem to know, therefore, what their “sign value” was.
Benedict XVI resides in the monastery since the renovations were accomplished after the quick departure of the Visitation nuns. He himself has taken over their work of praying for the papacy.
I’m willing to bet that all of this was a precedent for Vultum Dei quaerere, with those whose idea it was to generate such a document already interfering back in the day.
In the new regulations, the “sign value and participation in life of the local Church” is paramount, so much so that if it is judged by say, the local ordinary, to be lacking, they are to be subjected to a four member “ad hoc commission” which includes the local ordinary as one of those four ex-officio members. “The purpose of this intervention is to initiate a process of guidance for the revitalization of the monastery, or to effect its closure.” I note that the bishop cannot be wrong in all of this. It’s do or die. Perhaps two other members of the commission can convince him to back off.
I remember an Archbishop who was putting outrageous pressure on a fully alive monastery of Discalced Carmelite nuns, wanting them to take over the Natural Family Planning apostolate of the entire Archdiocese from their monastery. “Either fill your minds with thoughts of types of mucous or your monastery will be closed for having no sign value or participation in the local church!” They didn’t do it. They were still protected by Pope John Paul II at the time. But no longer.
This touches me deeply as I have a number of cloistered nuns praying for yours truly.