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The Guardian

Vatican expels ‘rebel nuns’ for refusing to leave Italian monastery

By Angela Giuffrida in Rome,

For the past decade, the monastery and its cloistered community – described as representing an important slice of Ravello’s history – has been home to only three nuns.

The Vatican has expelled two cloistered sisters from the nunhood after the pair disobeyed a request to leave a seven-centuries-old monastery along Italy’s Amalfi coast.

Known in the clifftop town of Ravello as “the rebel nuns”, Massimiliana Panza and Angela Maria Punnackal left the Santa Chiara monastery on Saturday after receiving a letter signed by Pope Francis telling them they were being relieved of “the obligations of sacred ordination”.
Massimiliana Panza, left, and Angela Maria Punnackal. Photograph: Emiliano Amato/Quotidiano Costiera

For the past decade, the monastery and its cloistered community – described as representing an important slice of Ravello’s history – has been home to only three nuns: Panza, Punnackal and Maria Cristina Fiore, a 97-year-old sister who has lived there since 1955.

The three were asked to transfer to another monastery or convent after the Vatican conducted an inspection of its various properties and concluded that there were too few residents at Santa Chiara to warrant the community being maintained.

After a request to replenish the monastery with nuns was rejected, the sisters attempted to negotiate with the Vatican to keep it going. They were ultimately snubbed, with Panza and Punnackal being given their marching orders from the monastery and nunhood for resisting the requested transfer. Sister Fiore is permitted to stay, owing to poor health which has left her bedridden, while two other nuns have moved in to assist her.

In the letter from the Vatican, Panza and Punnackal were told they had “disobeyed the church”.

“It’s essentially a punishment,” said Fabrio Adernò, the lawyer for the pair. “And because it has been confirmed by Pope Francis they can’t appeal. The only solution would be one of grace, in that the pope removes this order and allows them to reintegrate into the nunhood.”

The Guardian has asked the Vatican for comment.

Panza has returned to her family home in Nola, near Naples, where she is temporarily hosting Punnackal, who is originally from India. The two nuns protested against the transfer over fears that the monastery, which along with its adjacent church was built in 1297, would be closed.

“Nuns have been there for seven centuries and there is a really strong link with the community of Ravello,” said Gino Schiavo, who is part of a committee established to save the monastery. “It would be a real shame for it to disappear.”

Schiavo said that the monastery was once a more vibrant place, hosting about 40 nuns and a nursery.

“Many generations of children went to nursery there,” he said. “It is a piece of Ravello’s history. Even though there were only three nuns left, it is important to maintain it. Cloistered life is not as strict as it was years ago, we would see them whenever they ventured out for a necessity, such as going to the doctor or post office. We are disappointed and perplexed by the Vatican’s decision, especially after they kicked these two sisters out only to move two others in.”

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