Rebel Spanish nuns excommunicated following land dispute

Nuns shun Vatican and say they follow controversial clergyman in row with links to purchase of monastery

A community of nuns in northern Spain has split with the Vatican and claimed they are being persecuted by the Catholic Church because of a property dispute.

A group of rebel Spanish nuns who have shunned the Vatican and been locked in a dispute with local Catholic authorities have been excommunicated.

The nuns, who live in a convent in the northern town of Belorado and belong to the Order of St Claire, announced their departure from Catholic orthodoxy in May with a 70-page online statement.

In it, they declared their allegiance to Pablo de Rojas Sánchez-Franco, leader of the Devout Union of the Apostle Saint Paul, a religious group considered a sect by the Vatican. He was excommunicated in 2019.

The archbishop of Burgos, Mario Iceta, gave the nuns until Friday to appear before an ecclesiastical tribunal to defend their actions, warning that they would be excommunicated if they failed to do so. They responded with a defiant letter confirming their position. In it, they said that authorities “who are neither valid nor legitimate have no power over our souls” and that the archbishop “does not have the ability to impose spiritual punishment such as the farce that is excommunication”.


Rebel Spanish nuns split with Vatican amid property spatOpens in new window ]

The nuns sent three lawyers to meet the church authorities on Friday to negotiate a “peaceful and extrajudicial” solution.

However, no such agreement was reached and the archbishopric subsequently confirmed that it was proceeding with the excommunication of 10 nuns from the community.

“They are the same sisters who have expressed their free and personal decision to abandon the Catholic Church,” the archbishop said in the resolution announcing the measure. He added that “it is necessary to remember that the excommunication decree is a judicial action considered by the church a medicinal measure, which encourages reflection and personal conversion”.

The archbishop also called on the nuns to leave the convent in Belorado.

Although the nuns have voiced doctrinal differences with the Catholic Church, the conflict has been linked to attempts by the nuns to buy the Orduña monastery, in the Basque Country, reportedly priced at €1.2 million. According to the archbishopric of Burgos, the nuns failed to follow through on an initial payment to purchase the building from local church authorities. However, they said that a benefactor, who the church appears to have identified as Dr De Rojas Sánchez-Franco, would complete the purchase.

Sagrada Família church, started in 1882, ‘will be completed in 2026’Opens in new window ]

The church cancelled the contract, drawing accusations of meddling by the Vatican from the nuns, led by Sr Isabel de la Trinidad, the abbess of the community.

Tensions between the local church and the nuns have increased further over recent weeks. Sr Isabel de la Trinidad filed a legal complaint against Bishop Iceta for alleged abuse of power and other crimes. Earlier this month, the nuns reported on social media that the archbishopric of Burgos had “usurped” their bank accounts, leaving them unable to access funds.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain