Eleven American nuns yesterday "categorically denied" a statement by a high Vatican official earlier this week that they had publicly recanted their dissenting views on abortion published in a 1984 newspaper advertisement.
The women said Cardinal Jerome Hamer, head of the Vatican office that oversees religious orders, misrepresented their stands to "pressure and isolate" two West Virginia nuns whose involvement in the ad is still under church adjudication.
The ad, signed by 97 lay and church people, was published during the 1984 presidential election and contended that "committed Catholics" legitimately can hold different views about abortion.
The Vatican threatened the 24 nuns among the signers with expulsion from their orders if they did not recant. After prolonged negotiations involving the nuns, their superiors and Vatican officials, all but Sisters Barbara Ferraro and Patricia Hussey, members of the Notre Dame de Namur order that operates a shelter for homeless women in Charleston, W.Va., were cleared.
Hamer said Monday that the Vatican has "accepted public declarations of adherence to Catholic doctrine" against abortion from 22 nuns involved. He raised the prospect of "formal disciplinary procedures in accord with church law" if the Notre Dame sisters failed to conform.
Sister Maureen Fiedler of the unofficial Quixote Center here said yesterday that 11 of the 22 women -- "those I could reach by phone" -- agreed to a hastily drawn statement denying that they had made "public declarations of adherence to Catholic doctrine on abortion." Another woman "objected to the wording of the statement" but supported its objectives, Fiedler said.
In addition, Sister Margaret Farley of the Yale Divinity School faculty last February challenged an earlier statement by Hamer that she had "retracted her signature" from the ad. Farley said that what she did "was to clarify my position. And that was accepted as sufficient."
The women's statement yesterday "deplored the continuing threats" against the two Notre Dame sisters and pledged to "stand with them in solidarity in their ongoing struggle."