Seven nuns in a Carmelite monastery in Morristown, N.J., who support the leadership of their prioress say the five dissident nuns who have gained national publicity are giving an inaccurate picture of the situation.
In an interview with Maura Rossi in Thursday's issue of The Beacon, the weekly newspaper of the Paterson Catholic Diocese, the seven nuns said they have underlined their support for Mother Theresa Hewitt by petitioning Bishop Frank J. Rodimer and the prioress' home community in Terre Haute, Ind., to extend indefinitely her service in Morristown.
The protesting nuns--four of whom locked themselves in the monastery infirmary Oct. 4 and were joined by a fifth a day later--complained that Mother Theresa had introduced innovations such as television and brighter lights in the chapel after she was appointed by Bishop Rodimer in August, 1987.
But the seven non-protesting nuns said television was not an innovation at the monastery. They charged that the dissidents had separated themselves from the rest of the community and had been given special privileges by the former prioress, Mother Marie Therese of Jesus Crucified, who is now living in Verdun, France.
Sister Emmanuel of the Mother of God, a 56-year member of the monastery, said the controversy began when the four original dissidents decided that "nobody here was worth talking to" except the former prioress. She said the four "totally separated themselves" from the rest of the community, even refusing to participate with the other nuns in singing responses at the Mass.
Several of the non-protesting nuns claimed that Mother Marie Therese had veered from strict Carmelite rule by allowing the dissidents out of the cloister for vacations. They said the dissidents had apparently been attending Masses outside the monastery, which also is in violation of the rules of the community.
Sister Teresa of the Holy Spirit, one of the non-protesters and herself a former prioress who entered the monastery 47 years ago, said the use of television was not something Mother Theresa had introduced.
"People used to lend us their sets, and then we found they had to borrow somebody else's when they wanted to watch something," she said.
What Are They Watching?
Sister Emmanuel recalled that "they'd bring them in on wheelbarrows or something, and it became a very public thing with people wondering, 'What are the nuns in the Carmel watching now?' "
Sister Juanita, another supporter of the current prioress, said the changes made by the new prioress were not the real issue in the dispute, despite the dissidents' contentions.
"It was not what was done but who did it," Sister Juanita maintained. "These four sisters were not going to accept anything that did not come from Mother Marie Therese."
Mother Theresa herself has said the dispute is not a conservative-liberal struggle but one of obedience to her leadership as prioress. In a rare news conference Oct. 18, she said, "I will not give in to attempted anarchy, of a total disregard for the rules of the order. What if the governor of Massachusetts was voted President and all the people who supported Mr. Bush rebelled? The nuns have an obligation, because of their vows, to respect their prioress whether they like the person or don't like the person."
At Rodimer's request, the Vatican appointed Father Kevin Culligan of Milwaukee, one of the three Carmelite provincials in the United States, to investigate the dispute and propose a solution.
The dissidents broke off talks with Culligan after one meeting and charged that he had had a "prior friendship" with Mother Theresa. The priest then went to Rome to report to the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for Religious, which had approved of Mother Theresa's appointment to succeed Mother Marie Therese.