WASHINGTON — Eleven nuns who signed a 1984 abortion-related advertisement and were threatened with dismissal from their religious communities denied Thursday a Vatican statement that they now adhere to the church's teaching on abortion.
Their denial was prompted by a new Vatican threat to expel two nuns, Barbara Ferraro and Patricia Hussey, both Sisters of Notre Dame who work in Charleston, W.Va., for their refusal to publicly adhere to the church's position opposing all abortion.
The 11 said they objected to the use of the settlements reached in their case to "pressure and isolate" Ferraro and Hussey. "We continue to stand with them in solidarity in their ongoing struggle," they said.
At issue is a July 21 Vatican statement saying that it has accepted "public declarations of adherence to Catholic doctrine on abortion" from 25 members of the clergy--priests, religious brothers and nuns--who signed the Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion that appeared in the New York Times on Oct. 7, 1984.
However, the nuns said in their own statement: "Eleven of the nuns who signed the Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion . . . and whose cases with the Vatican are closed, today categorically denied that they had ever made 'public declarations of adherence to Catholic doctrine on abortion.' "
Their statement added, "Moreover, (we) deplore the continuing threats leveled against the Notre Dame community and their sisters, Barbara Ferraro, SND, and Patricia Hussey, SND, and . . . object to the misuse of the settlements in our cases to pressure and isolate Barbara and Patricia."
Said Sister Maureen Fiedler, one of the 11 signers of the new statement: "I have never retracted or recanted one syllable of the Catholic Statement on Abortion and Pluralism. I continue to stand behind every word of it without the slightest reservation."
The dispute between the Vatican and the sisters began with the publication of the advertisement, sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice, which argued that "a diversity of opinions regarding abortion exists among committed Catholics."
The ad, signed by 97 people, including 30 priests or members of religious communities, appeared at the height of the presidential election campaign and followed attacks by members of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy on some Catholic political candidates, particularly Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, for their not being more strongly against abortion.
The Vatican's Congregation for Religious and Sacred Institutes, which oversees Roman Catholic clergy, threatened to expel the 27 identified priests, brothers and nuns over which it has authority unless they publicly retracted their participation in the ad.
Among the 11 who signed the new statement was Sister Judith Vaughan of Los Angeles, a member of the order of St. Joseph of Carondelet.