SPOKANE, Wash. — Sister Mary Eucharista, 51, a member of the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church, remembers the day Pope Benedict XVI was elected. I can’t believe it; he’s the Pope, she recalls thinking.
It was a significant admission for Sister Mary Eucharista, who at the time was a member of the Religious Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen. As sedevacantists, they do not accept the legitimacy of the Popes since the Second Vatican Council because they have espoused modernist doctrines over traditional Catholic teachings.
Sister Mary Eucharista’s acceptance of Benedict as Pope caused an irreparable split in her community and would ultimately lead her and 14 other nuns to leave a place they had come to love.
According to William Marshner, professor of theology at Christendom College in Virginia, sedevacantists base their argument on an obscure bull issued in the 1550s by Pope Paul IV which pronounced excommunication against anyone who secretly held any sort of heresy. Anyone in the hierarchy who was even suspected of heresy was deprived of office.
But, says Marshner, sedevacantists seem be unaware of a canon from the Fourth Council of Constantinople that says one cannot accuse one’s ecclesiastical superior of heresy or of a crime without a canonical process. “You can’t set yourself up as judge and jury,” he said.
Sister Mary Eucharista began having doubts about sedevacantism as early as 1993. She prayed for guidance, and increasingly began talking with Catholics in the “mainstream” Church.
Mother Kathryn Joseph, mother general of the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church, left the schismatic congregation along with Sister Mary Eucharista. Her own sedevacantist views began to soften in 2000, when she took part in a pilgrimage to Rome and saw rank-and-file Catholics going to confession, praying the Rosary and being reverent in Church. She came home hopeful of a possible reconciliation with Rome.
By 2005, things reached a boiling point. Sister Mary Eucharista had spent much time in prayer and conversations with Catholics in communion with the Church, culminating with her acceptance of Pope Benedict upon his election. She spoke of her views with her fellow sisters, and her mother superior ordered her to remain silent.
The next year, some of the nuns went to the bishop of Spokane, William Skylstad, seeking to be regularized. Meanwhile, some of the Mary Immaculate nuns contacted Mark Pivarunas, the superior general of the organization, to ask him to do something about the division in their community. Pivarunas, in turn, wrote each of the “dissident” sisters telling them to keep quiet about their positions or leave the community. So, in June 2007, 15 of the nuns left.
With the blessing of Bishop Skylstad, the sisters formed the public association Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church. Their chief apostolates include teaching and working at Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in Spokane. It is still a period of discernment for the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church; some have already left to found new religious communities.
Bishop Skylstad is pleased with the outcome of the sisters’ journey. “It is with profound gratitude and appreciation of their courage that we received them into full communion with the Church,” he said. “Our prayers for unity were answered. It shows that with the power of the Holy Spirit, miracles can happen. It’s wonderful.”
A longer version of this article appeared at NCRegister.com.
Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.