Rebel Spanish nuns declare schism with Vatican over property deal

AFP - [email protected]
Rebel Spanish nuns declare schism with Vatican over property deal
The entrance to the Convent of the Poor Clares of Santa Clara de Belorado, near Burgos in northern Spain. Photo: CESAR MANSO/AFP.

A community of nuns in a 15th century convent in northern Spain has split with the Roman Catholic Church because of a property dispute and doctrinal wrangling that has seen them join up with a renegade priest.


The Church has threatened to excommunicate the 16 nuns who live in Belorado, a town of 1,800 on the popular Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, pilgrimage trail, near Burgos.

The rebel nuns from the Order of St Claire, announced their split from the Church in a letter published on social media on May 13 along with a 70-page "manifesto".

In the letter, signed by the convent's Mother Superior, Sister Isabel de la Trinidad, the nuns said they had broken away because they were being "persecuted" by the church hierarchy over the property dispute.

The nuns in 2020 reached a deal to buy a convent in Orduna about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Belorado but they said they were not able to pay for it because the Vatican blocked their planned sale of another abandoned property to fund the purchase.

The transaction was "blocked by Rome", they wrote in the letter, accusing the Vatican of "doctrinal chaos" and "contradictions" in its positions on matters of faith.

The nuns announced they were now under the jurisdiction of excommunicated priest Pablo de Rojas Sanchez-Franco, who is known for his ultraconservative views.

'Very painful'

He heads the Devout Union of the Apostle Saint Paul, a religious group regarded as a sect by the Catholic Church and presents himself as a bishop, appearing in public in episcopal robes.

Sanchez-Franco backs sedevacantism, a movement which holds that all popes since Pius XII, who died in 1958, are heretics and that there is currently no valid pontiff.

The Archbishop of Burgos, Mario Iceta who in 2019 excommunicated Sanchez-Franco, has expressed "perplexity" over the nuns' breakaway.


"It is very painful to hear the Mother Superior say that the Pope is a usurper," he said.

He has called for dialogue to settle the dispute. But this month the archbishop sent representatives accompanied by a bailiff to the convent to demand that the nuns turn over the keys to the convent. They were rebuffed.

The nuns have filed a lawsuit against the Church for "abuse of power". On their recently created Instagram account, they have accused the archdiocese of having blocked their bank accounts, preventing them from buying "basic goods"

'Broken down'

The Church had initially given the nuns until June 16 to appear before an ecclesiastical tribunal to confirm their decision to split, which could lead to excommunication -- a move that would deprive them of certain sacraments such as confession.

But the deadline was postponed until Friday, according to the Church which has promised not to excommunicate the oldest nuns who are deemed more vulnerable.

It wants to hear from the nuns individually to assess their position on a case-by-case basis.


The nuns have in recent days reiterated their hostility to the Vatican on social media, making a last-minute agreement unlikely.

The Church "explored all possible avenues to avoid excommunication" but "dialogue has broken down," theologian Luis Santamaria, founder of the Iberia-American Network for the Study of Sects, told AFP. He said the nuns appear to have been "manipulated" by Sanchez-Franco's group.

"Everything suggests the sisters did not take their decision in complete freedom," he said.



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