On Sunday morning, just before 9 a.m. Mass, about six protesters held signs outside of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Miami Shores, suggesting that parishioners withhold donations.
Many parents of students who attend the church's K-8 Catholic school are upset because they were not consulted, and thus caught by surprise, regarding a decision that the nuns — who have run the school for 35 years — will be leaving this June. Some parents also suspect that church leaders have not been truthful about how the decision was made.
Church officials have said the decision to remove the nuns was made by supervisors of their order, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, headquartered in Pennsylvania. But Salvador Barreiros, treasurer of the school's Home and School Association, has said that the priest, Father Pedro Corces, told him personally that the decision was his and that he wanted a layperson as principal. Barreiros made the claims on a Facebook page in support of the nuns, which has since seen a flurry of action as parents debate the matter and discuss what actions they make take next.
Lisa Sigala, a parent who sends three children to school at St. Rose and was protesting Sunday, said, "Of course we want improvements for the school. But there is a way to achieve that without throwing the nuns out. Who throws the nuns out of a Catholic school? We've not been specifically told where they are needed instead. If you read between the lines..."
Parents say that they had been asked to attend a mandatory meeting next week regarding tuition and that after they planned to confront the priest during the meeting, they were told the meeting format would be changed. Rather than meet as a big group, they would now gather in small groups in their children's classrooms and be addressed over the public address system.
One bystander who gave his name only as Ricardo on Sunday morning defended the church for making what he characterized as "a business decision" and said that it was "not Catholic to go out and smear people."
"Tell me in the Bible where Jesus made a business decision," retorted Deanna Cook, whose three children attend St. Rose and who says she formerly sat on the pastoral council at St. Rose but became disillusioned with the church.
Cook said that Corces' failure to take responsibility for the crisis constituted a "flat-out Biblical sin" and that he needed to be called out, as instructed in Bible passage Matthew:18:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
The priest has not returned messages left by New Times.
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Mary Ross Agosta, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Miami, reiterated that the nuns' departure was the decision of their mother superior. "I know several parents have spoken to the mother superior," she said. "When a woman joins a religious order, she takes a vow of obedience, and it is the mother superior they vow obedience to. When a directive is given, they must obey."
She did not sound fazed that parents might withhold donations or withdraw their children from the school. "These are parental choices that they will be making. It has been explained. While it is a sentimental decision that the nuns will be leaving, if [parents] choose to leave because of that — to withdraw from the school or parish — certainly it is their prerogative."
Last week, Corces sent a letter to families suggesting that the conflict be chalked up to "growing pains" and that they trust Christ. He said candidates for the principal's job would be interviewed beginning this week. He did not address the question of who decided to move the nuns.