Spanish nun: schismatic monastery has become ‘a cult’

The Pillar, Spain/March 24, 2024

By Filipe D'Avellez

A Poor Clare nun who left her monastery of Belorado, in Burgos, Spain, says she had to leave to avoid becoming part of a cult, after her community declared it was leaving the Catholic Church and placed itself under the jurisdiction of a sedevacantist self-proclaimed bishop.

Sister María Amparo, 81, has been in religious life for over 60 years, 20 of which spent in Belorado. She left the community three days after her superior Sister Isabel de la Trinidad made public the community’s declaration of schism.

Sister María Amparo was taken in at another convent, and has avoided speaking to the press, but did speak to local newspaper Diario de Burgos.

In an interview, she firmly denied Sister Isabel’s claim that the decision for the nuns to break with the Church had been unanimous, saying she and others in the convent had not been consulted.

“You can’t make a decision like this without a chapter, and there was no meeting. We were presented with facts [afterward],” said Sr. María Amparo while explaining that the 16 nuns were called to gather in the chapel, where the self-proclaimed bishop Pablo de Rojas Sánchez-Franco was waiting to tell them that he was now in charge.

Pablo de Rojas claims to have been ordained priest and bishop by a German former Jesuit who was himself ordained in the Palmarian Church, another Spanish schismatic community with which neither are currently affiliated.

Sister Maria Amparo says she spoke out against the pseudo-bishop in the chapel gathering.

“The Lord put words in my mouth. I told him: We are under the jurisdiction of Bishop Mario [Iceta]. He is the successor of the apostles for the Archdiocese of Burgos. [Rojas] replied that this was meaningless, and spewed other idiocies against the Church.”

“Nothing in the world will make me leave my Mother, the Church, and nothing in the world will make me abandon my obedience to the successor of Peter, who at the moment is Pope Francis. [Rojas] tried to convince me, but I stood firm”.

Sister Maria Amparo’s account raises concerns about how much the older nuns have been told about their current situation.

“I said that it was not licit to close this debate without a chapter, but I was told that the decision had been made ‘a long time ago, and that everyone has agreed.’ I said that Sister Pilar and I had known nothing about this, neither had the older nuns, but he answered that there was a majority, and that was enough. Finally, [Rojas] said that if I did not accept his oversight, I would have to leave.”

The nun says she refused to attend services in the church for the next three days, describing Pablo de Rojas and his “priest,” José – a barman who now claims to be a spokesman for the community – as laughable figures.

“I was watched the whole time so that I wouldn’t be able to speak to the older sisters. They didn’t even let me say goodbye to them. They probably don’t even realize I left. But it was a firm decision. I had to leave, to avoid being a part of that cult.”

Luis Santamaría del Río, a Spanish expert on cults with Christian origins, has little doubt that at least the older nuns are victims of manipulation.

“All that we know about the current situation of the monastery and the personal character of the superior lead us to conclude that this is a case of abuse of power and conscience over the other sisters,” he told The Pillar.

“Some of the nuns seem to be truly convinced of what the superior and her ‘guru’ claim, but the rest of them, especially the older nuns – some of whom are slightly cognitively impaired – have been fooled by the superior, who has used her authority illicitly, abusing their vow of obedience and the trust they have in her,” Santamaría said.

The 15 remaining sisters, meanwhile, have closed themselves off from most contact with the outside world, although family members still have access to the convent.

After a flurry of activity in the first days after the announcement, made on 13 May via a letter and a 70-page “Catholic manifesto” which argued that there have been no legitimate popes since Pius XII, the order’s Instagram account has gone quiet, though the website has continued to post images of what appears to be Tridentine Masses celebrated in the chapel.

Pablo de Rojas Sánchez-Franco’s Pious Union of Saint Paul the Apostle, however, published a video of a Te Deum held in celebration of the nuns’ entry into the “Catholic Faith, abjuring the errors of the conciliar Church”.

In the video, Pablo de Rojas is seen presiding at the altar, assisted by José Ramón, as the sisters sing in Latin. The description of the video is followed by bank details for donations.

Shortly after Sister Isabel de la Trinidad published her original letter and manifesto it emerged that there was a real estate dispute involving the community, the local diocese, and the Vatican.

The superior of the Belorado monastery has accused Rome of blocking the sale of an empty convent which, she said, was necessary for the nuns to pay debts accrued from the purchase of another monastery, in the diocese of Vitoria where part of the community is housed.

Sister Isabel is also nearing the end of her third term as superior, and is prevented by canon law from being reelected.

According to the vicar for consecrated life in the Diocese of Vitoria, the whole crisis was triggered by the sister’s desire to remain in office.

Father Manuel Gómez Tavira told Radio Euskadi that “this whole issue could be just another Netflix series, were it not for the fact that there are 15 religious who are being fooled by the superior, who for some time has been trying to perpetuate herself in her position.”

“She has been fooling them, as if this were all a case of persecution. It’s not true that the Bishop of Burgos prevented the sale of their property. Sister Isabel has been telling the sisters many lies, which they believe wholeheartedly.”

Regarding the blocked sale, he says that it was the nuns themselves who failed to seek the necessary permission from Rome and from the diocese to sell real estate over a certain value. “This is all about economic interests and power. And it has cast one man, who nobody had heard of before, into the spotlight”, he said, referring to Pablo de Rojas.

Though he has expressed his deep concern, and deplored the whole situation, the Archbishop of Burgos has fallen short of issuing an official decree of excommunication against the nuns, and continues to ask for a chance to speak to them personally.

“I am convinced that the archbishop’s strategy is the most effective and closest to the Gospel”, said Luis Santamaría del Río.

“He is trying to establish dialogue with them, a face-to-face meeting which might shed some light on the personal reality they are experiencing, independently of the community atmosphere and the sectarian manipulation that they are the victims of.”

“However,” he told The Pillar, “we have to bear in mind that we are not talking about free subjects, with full decision-making faculties, due to the intensity and duration of the deception they have been suffering.”

Luis Santamaría told The Pillar that although there are similar groups to the Pious Union of Saint Paul the Apostle operating in Spain, the case of a whole community of nuns leaving the Catholic Church to follow a cult leader is unparalleled.

He said he hopes this can act as a warning to the wider population.

“On one hand the public exposition of this sedevacantist false bishop is a showcase for the irrationality and craziness of his pretensions, and should be seen as proof of how dangerous these groups are,” he said. “On the other hand, however, it could make him more popular in traditionalist circles, and among Catholics who are being influenced by a variety of conspiracy theories about the current state of the Catholic Church.”

Meanwhile, the Confederation of Poor Clares of Spain and Portugal, which represents 180 convents and 10 federations, has published a statement calling on the Belorado monastery to reconcile with the Catholic Church.

“Fidelity to our way of life, as saints Clare and Francis wished it, entails communion with the magisterium of the Church, which we profess to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. You cannot be a Poor Clare outside of this obedience,” said the statement.

“If these sisters recognize their errors and return to communion with the Catholic Church and with the Order of St Clare, we express our willingness to welcome them back with the same love with which we received them on the day of their profession.”

The statement ends with a call to the nuns to “reconcile with God, and return to the bosom of the Church, the root of your faith and of your consecration, which you are departing from.”

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