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Defrocked Nuns Face Eviction
W.Ż. By W.Ż.    
A group of former nuns defrocked for disobedience to the Church may soon be evicted from a convent they have been occupying illegally in Kazimierz Dolny, a town on the Vistula River 140 km southeast of Warsaw.

Over two years ago, the nuns refused to leave the convent and have been occupying it ever since. The nuns belonged to the Congregation of Sisters of the Bethany Family but have been defrocked for disobedience by their superiors. The eviction is scheduled for Oct. 10.

At the beginning of September, the nuns' order paid a zl.56,000 fee to cover the estimated costs of the eviction, including the cost of transportation, security guards, police intervention, locksmith services and medical assistance. Earlier, a court-appointed eviction officer attempted to negotiate with the ex-nuns, but they never allowed him to enter the convent.

The dispute started over two years ago. In 2005, the media reported that Jadwiga Ligocka, the mother superior of the Bethany nuns, displayed "disturbing conduct" in the main headquarters of the Bethany nuns in Kazimierz Dolny. Citing "private inspiration by the Holy Spirit," she reportedly sought to convert the order into a contemplative congregation and made other controversial religious and administrative decisions involving the congregation.

The Congregation of Sisters of the Bethany Family was formed in 1930 with the aim of helping priests in their parish services. The Bethany nuns teach religion, visit the ill and work as sacristans and organists in churches. They have convents in many locations in Poland and work abroad as well.

Ever since Pope John Paul II approved the congregation in 1992, it has been formally under the jurisdiction of the Holy See, or the Vatican. In May 2005, the Vatican sent a special delegate of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to examine the situation in Kazimierz Dolny. As a result of the investigation, the Vatican Aug. 6 decided to remove Ligocka from her office and appoint Sister Barbara Robak as the new mother superior. However, Ligocka and a group of her supporters locked themselves up in the convent, separated themselves from the world outside and ignored orders from their superiors. Ligocka also said she would take new vows from the nuns.

On Feb. 1, 2006, Lublin Archbishop Józef Życiński issued a decree that banned administering sacraments in the convent of the Bethany nuns in Kazimierz Dolny. On Oct. 28, 2006, the Vatican issued a decree that expelled 10 disobedient nuns from the Bethany order. But the defrocked nuns never left the convent buildings. They were accompanied in their isolation by around 50 ex-postulants, novice nuns and nuns whose temporary vows had expired. The women let no one inside the convent except for family members.

On Feb. 3 this year, Archbishop Życiński wrote a pastoral letter to the inhabitants of Kazimierz Dolny to advise them that the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life had confirmed its decision to exclude the Bethany nuns in Kazimierz Dolny from the monastic community of the Catholic Church. When the decision was announced, the General Board of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Bethany Family took legal action to reclaim the convent. It notified the District Prosecutor's Office in Puławy that the ex-nuns had committed a crime of disturbing domestic peace by illegally occupying someone else's property. The District Court in Puławy issued a ruling ordering the eviction of 65 people who were staying in the convent. All the lawsuits were examined at behind-closed-doors sessions. The judgments were made by default, as the ex-nuns never showed up in court nor did they accept subpoenas or respond to the lawsuits. After the judgment, the Congregation requested the court eviction officer to remove the ex-nuns from the convent.

The case has upset the clergy. Both the church and the public are particularly disturbed by the fact that a few months ago the nuns were joined in the convent by a man, 42-year-old Franciscan monk Roman Komaryczko, who had previously entered into a conflict with his superiors. According to media reports unconfirmed by the religious authorities, the priest has formed "a sort of a sect" in the convent, proclaimed himself the guru, and sexually molested former Bethany nuns, claiming that this was a form of "therapy to bring the nuns closer to God."

According to some media reports, senior church officials in Poland had long known that Komaryczko had been involved in sexual scandal in the past, but they kept it secret. In November 2002, Father Kazimierz Malinowski, the Cracow provincial superior of the Franciscans, had prohibited Komaryczko from contacting female congregations and "hearing confession outside the confessional." It has been reported that following a request from the Polish authorities of the Franciscan order, the Vatican intends to exclude Komaryczko from the order and deprive him of the right to exercise his priestly functions.

The new mother superior, appointed by the Vatican, is staying at the Bethany nuns' Lublin home, which is temporarily being used as the congregation's main headquarters. She has refused to comment on the dispute.