The Vatican is rocking at the "holy" nun who is wholly against the Vatican and the Pope.
The story has just broken of a very prominent "holy" nun who has attacked the Vatican and the Pope and has applied to be released from her "holy" vows so that she can carry on her crusade against the Church of Rome. The name of the nun is Lavinia Byrne. She is a prolific author, journalist and broadcaster, but she has just announced that she is to leave her Order in protest at her treatment by the Vatican.
A member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which she joined in 1964 at the age of 17, she has submitted a request to be released from her vows and to leave her community. She is a columnist for the Jesuit paper The Tablet and the author of several religious books. She has stated that her move was prompted by the efforts of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to suppress discussion on the role of women in the Church.
Sister Lavinia's decision also comes in the wake of a request made two years ago by the CDF, which is headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, for a public declaration of her belief in Humanae Vitae, the 1968 Encyclical prohibiting the use of artificial birth control, and in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, a statement by the Pope issued three years ago which restricted priestly ordination to men only, on the grounds that the Pope did not have the authority to alter the tradition of the Church in this area. Neither of these documents was declared ex cathedra, that is with the Papal stamp of infallibility. Sister Lavinia said each had been the subject of retrospective attempts to claim infallibility, when pressing questions about the role of women in the Church, in her view, remained unresolved.
Lavinia is a supporter of women's ordination, and she insists that she does not disagree with Humanae Vitae, but views artificial birth control as a non-issue for her, because it does not affect her personally. She said her real grievance was due to the conduct of CDF. "The point, as I see it," she reiterated, "is that with an ageing Pope the balance of power is being transferred from the place where it really belongs to the bureaucratic institutions of the Church. A Church that makes people sign up to party documents, particularly those which are not at the core of belief, is one which is shooting itself in the foot." She added that she hoped to stay a happy and loyal Catholic for life, and would not have had a problem if she had been simply asked to declare her belief in the creed.
Sister Lavinia came under the scrutiny of the CDF after the publication of a book entitled Woman at the Altar. In that book she remarks that the advent of the pill meant immense and irreversible changes in the Church. She protested that she was merely making an observation. She took her decision to leave the IBVM; however, when she was in New York during the Christmas period and read in a newspaper that 3,000,000 Catholics in the city had attended mass on Christmas Day, she told The Catholic Herald, a weekly Roman Catholic English newspaper: "I wonder how many of them practised what the Church teaches on birth control. I suppose they have five million in the collections on Sunday. The Vatican is going to think twice before it starts naming and shaming them."
Sister Lavinia said she was angry at the treatment of women in the parishes, where they were looked upon merely as "servants" of the Church. In particular she named the American Sister Jeannie Cremic, who was suspended last year by the CDF for working with homosexuals and lesbians, pending a clarification of her own beliefs in homosexual intercourse. "One of the problems with the Roman structures is that the CDF will not deal directly with any individuals," Sister Lavinia maintained. "Instead, they choose to go through the hierarchy of a community, writing only to the General Superior of that Order, and expecting her to apply the sanctions in their name."
Sister Lavinia presently works at the Cambridge Theological Federation, training Anglican, Methodist and United Reformed Church students as ministers, and prepares Roman Catholic women students for active ministry in the Church. She says she now hopes to lecture, broadcast and write "without constantly feeling that my integrity is being called into question".
She is not the only high-ranking Roman Catholic to resign in protest at the activity of the Vatican. In September, 1998, 'Father' John Wingaards, former Vicar General of the Mill Hill Missionaries, left the priesthood over Church teaching on women priests, homosexuality and artificial birth control. He was particularly aggrieved by the Motu Proprio by the Pope that year, called Ad Tuendam Fidem, which consolidated traditional Church teaching by its commentary by the said Cardinal Ratzinger, who is the great exponent of Vatican dictatorship.