Accusations of stolen cash and silver, forged business records and slander have been hurled between two groups of nuns.
The episode has resulted in a police investigation at the request of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Ghost, who claim that two members of their convent left, but not before stealing the items and turning them over to a rival convent at Mount St. Michael.
The convents are affiliated with different breakaway sects of the modern Catholic Church. They are considered traditionalist Roman Catholics who believe in the papacy, but do not recognize Benedict XVI as the true pope. They only offer the traditional Latin Mass.
Marie de Montfort, the reverend mother of the Missionary Sisters affiliated with Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church, complained to Spokane Valley police that personal and personnel files, financial records, credit card numbers, her religious order's corporate seal, and other items were stolen from safes and a business office by the nuns who departed her convent.
She further alleges that leaders at Mount St. Michael have shared the files and used the contents to spread rumors and falsities against her religious order.
Her demands, however, have been met with denials by the nuns at Mount St. Michael, who wear full-length blue habits and may be best known as "The Singing Nuns."
"These allegations are totally unfounded," said Mary Agnes, reverend mother of the Sisters of Mary Immaculate Queen. She said she doesn't know why such things are being said about her nuns, or the two women who "left the convent of their own accord ... and have never given us these things."
Agnes said she has had to screen her telephone calls to avoid harassment from de Montfort and others.
The nuns have attempted to temper their ire with offers of prayer for each other, but the recriminations read like religious pulp fiction.
There are allegations of buying sex books, forging documents and calumny.
Valley police were initially tepid toward the allegations, and told the sisters that the complaint sounded like a religious disagreement rather than a crime and encouraged them to hire an attorney or be resigned that the stolen property would not be recovered.
The response outraged the Rev. Kevin Vaillancourt, priest of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who wrote a tough-worded letter to local politicians and Gov. Chris Gregoire expressing his frustration with police and the Mount St. Michael leadership.
"In my opinion, not only does the inactivity of the Spokane Valley Police Department need to be investigated, but the activities at Mount St. Michael who are harboring an admitted thief and who possess stolen property in bad faith."
Police have since assigned the case to an investigator, said Lt. Matt Lyons.
He said the initial complaint by de Montfort and subsequent allegations made by Vaillancourt included "plenty of accusations, suspicions and assumptions," but not much of use to investigators.
"Some of what has been said is simply without any merit," said Lyons, who defended the police response to the theft complaint.
An investigator this week made an unannounced visit to Mount St. Michael to interview Agnes and others.
The priest at Mount St. Michael said the entire affair is baffling.
"I looked into what was said and they're false. Simply untrue," said the Rev. Casimir Puskorius. "As a matter of principle it would be sinful to steal such files."
He called the row "really unfortunate."
De Montfort and Vaillancourt are steadfast that there's chicanery and criminality at Mount St. Michael. They have written letters to their congregations outlining their suspicions and posted them on the Internet.
De Montfort said sisters at Mount St. Michael called her to tell her of the stolen documents. Many of the files pertain to a side business de Montfort runs out of the basement of her small convent selling religious books, movies, candles and other items through catalogs.
"All can be forgiven if they would just give us our property back," she said.
Agnes said there's nothing to return.
"We don't have anything. We haven't seen anything," she said.
No charges have been filed and the case remains under investigation, according to police.
Copyright (c) 2010, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.
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