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Superior Of Barricaded Nuns Says She Won’t Give In

October 18, 1988

MORRIS TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) _ The prioress of a convent where five protesting nuns have barricaded themselves for two weeks vowed Tuesday not to give into their demands and called their rebellion ″attempted anarchy.″

Mother Teresa Hewitt, head of the Monastery of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, said she has received hate mail from around the country since the nuns moved into the convent’s infirmary Oct. 4 and demanded the order return to a more conservative lifestyle.

But the protesters are using the introduction of television and the installation of better lighting in the chapel only to gain popular support of their cause, while the real issue, Mother Teresa said, is their refusal to obey her.

″Their protest is a radical contradiction to our basic beliefs,″ the prioress said. ″There has been a total resistance to accepting the fact that I’m a superior. That is in contrast to the vows that all nuns in the order take freely.″

Sister John of the Cross, one of the barricaded nuns who has acted as a spokeswoman for the group, said their allegiance to the Carmelite order’s rule supersedes allegiance to the prioress.

″We’re saying she has deviated from the rules,″ Sister John said in a telephone interview. ″We vow obedience to the ruling constitution, and it’s the responsibility of the prioress to uphold the constitution.″

Dressed in a black, brown and white habit, Mother Teresa was flanked by Sister Maria of the Carmelite order in Arlington, Texas, and Sister Teresa Benedicta of Danvers, Mass., who said they came to New Jersey to dramatize their support for her. The three spoke to reporters from behind an iron grating, which, in keeping with their order’s cloistered lifestyle, physically separates the nuns from all visitors.

Mother Teresa said she hopes the matter can still be resolved and all 13 nuns at the monastery can find a way to live together.

″I want the reconciliation. I’m still praying hard for it,″ she said.

Mother Teresa defended the changes she had made since becoming prioress 14 months ago, saying the Roman Catholic Church is constantly evolving and that the changes were well within the constitution of the order.

She said the television is used only for such occasions as watching the visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States and for video tapes of religious programming. The Walt Disney classic ″Babes in Toyland″ was shown as a Christmas treat, but the nuns had the option of whether to watch, she said.

Sister John, however, said the nuns’ cloistered lifestyle forbids violating enclosure and television is a direct violation. She said other non-religious programming, such as a documentary of U.S. history, also has been shown in the monastery.

In an attempt to settle matters, the Paterson Diocese last week brought in the Rev. Kevin Culligan, a Carmelite friar from Milwaukee and an envoy from the Vatican, to meet with the nuns.

It is up to the Vatican to issue a final report and recommendations for settling the matter.

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