Religion: The Immaculate Heart Rebels

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Time to Experiment. As the split attracted partisans on both sides, the Vatican in 1968 appointed a four-member commission to investigate. It decided on a compromise, permitting the order to split into two groups. The innovators, led by Sister Anita, were given "a reasonable time to experiment and to come to a definitive decision concerning their rule of life, to be submitted to the Holy See." The other group, consisting of some 50 traditionalist nuns, was allowed to continue teaching in parochial schools. Simultaneously, however, the Vatican's Sacred Congregation of Religious ruled on the case with Pope Paul's blessing. That decision amounted to an ultimatum to the nuns that they could continue as a religious order only if they returned to wearing a "recognizable" religious costume and restored much of the traditional discipline of religious community life.

Instead, Sister Anita last December set Feb. 1, 1970, as the deadline for the Vatican to relent. Father Edward Heston, secretary of the Congregation of Religious in Rome, explained the Vatican's refusal to give in: "When it became obvious that these ladies no longer wanted to operate within the framework of the religious community, there was nothing else to do but permit them to get out."

Sister Anita expects others pressing for reforms may follow the lead of the Immaculate Heart nuns in experimenting with secular communities. "The religious life," she says, "may not survive." Father Heston saw one good thing in the rebels' departure: the church, he feels, has demonstrated the limits of its toleration of innovation.

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