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RAVELLO, Italy (ChurchMilitant.com) The Vatican has expelled cloistered nuns from their convent in Ravello despite the sisters offering assets worth 50–60 million euros to prevent the closure of the ancient Santa Chiara monastery.
An order signed by Pope Francis also stripped two nuns, Sr. Massimiliana Panza and Sr. Angela Maria Punnackal, of their vows for their refusal to leave the 13th-century convent.
In 2021, the Vatican's Dicastery for Consecrated Life ordered the closure of the monastery due to the declining number of nuns who belong to the Urbanist Poor Clares of Italy. That number has plummeted over the decades, going from 42 to just 3.
Hoping to secure the future of the convent, the three remaining sisters transferred the assets of the monastery to the Vatican's papal charities.
"As soon as we made the donation to the pope, our transfer was decided," Sr. Panza told concerned locals. "In reality, we haven't been transferred but dismissed from the order."
"We didn't want to take anything; we were born as poor Franciscans, and we want to die that way, but we had every canonical right to see this donation through its conclusion," the Italian nun explained.
Situated on the magnificent Amalfi coast — a prime tourist destination and home to luxurious villas — the monastery's complex includes a church, the nuns' residence, a guesthouse, a set of ruins and a vast open area overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The convent owns a hotel and three local businesses, which generate about 200,000 euros in annual profits. The value of the real estate and the convent's movable assets is estimated between 50 million and 60 million euros.
Sister Panza lamented the capitulation of the order's national superiors to the Vatican's forcing the closure of the monastery.
"Our superiors thought differently. We didn't have the chance to do anything about the act of dismissal. That's the truth. We've done our part; now you must pray for the convent," Panza pleaded.
After receiving the donation, the Vatican ordered the three nuns to relocate to three different convents in Italy. A temporary exception was made for 97-year-old Sr. Maria Cristina Fiore, who has lived in the convent since 1955.
Soon after the Vatican ordered the convent's closure, local media reported that plans were afoot to build a luxury hotel complex on the site.
On Feb. 1, the sisters barricaded themselves in the convent and refused to open the doors to a delegation led by the pontifical commissioner, Fr. Giorgio Silvestri, a Franciscan friar.
Silvestri said that the Vatican had no intention of suppressing the monastery but had ordered a "turnover," with four new nuns replacing the three resident sisters.
Meanwhile, Ravello's local council is fiercely opposing the expulsion of the nuns and the closure of the monastery.
The mayor of Ravello, Paolo Vuilleumier, insisted that the community would "continue to keep the attention on the whole affair high."
Paolo Imperato, president of the Ravello Nostra cultural association, said the town would "fight the battle for restoring truth, justice and dignity to the virtuous 'disobedience' of the sisters" and "do our full part to defend centuries of history, culture and spirituality that this complex has represented for Ravello and for the whole world."
"We will do it without ifs and buts to vindicate the authenticity of the true Church, which cannot tolerate purges behind the false mask of nonalignment with higher orders," Imperato told local media. "Especially if they are questionable on a canonical level, as well as reprehensible on an ethical level, to the point of sounding like an anti-synodal testimony."
"The events of the last few hours make the danger of the suppression of the monastery imminent, with serious repercussions for the image of the city of Ravello," councillors of the Rinascita Ravellese party noted.
"The monastic settlement has existed for over seven centuries and has always had a strong bond with the Ravello community," the councillors added.
In 2016, Pope Francis issued the apostolic constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere on women's contemplative life, urging nuns not to yield "to the temptation to think in terms of numbers and efficiency."
However, in the document, Francis ruled that a monastery with fewer than five nuns will lose its autonomy and be placed under the supervision of an administrator superior. The Holy See will then decide on its affiliation, transfer or suppression.
"The recruitment of candidates from other countries solely for the sake of ensuring the survival of a monastery is to be absolutely avoided," Francis warned.
The follow-up instruction, Cor Orans, issued by Abp. José Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, ruled that a monastery can be suppressed if there are too few nuns or if the nuns are too old.
Faithful Catholics have voiced concerns over the closure of several monasteries under the Francis pontificate, including the Dominican Monastery of the Most Holy Annunciation in Marradi, the Monastery of the Visitation in Milan, the Monastery of the Visitation in Pistoia, the Cenacle of Montauto in Anghiari and the Poor Clares convent of Montalto in Marche.
In January, Pope Francis apologized to the Dominicans of the Holy Spirit, an order of traditionalist nuns in northwest France, for the bungled apostolic visitation and takeover of their community.
Vaticanist Aldo Maria Valli, in his recent book Claustrofobia, has demonstrated how cloistered orders are being targeted by the Vatican because the progressive hierarchy prioritizes social commitment over contemplative life.
Sister Punnackal, who is from India, is currently staying with Sr. Panza and her family near Naples while the nuns contemplate their next move.