KAZIMIERZ DOLNY, Poland – Police on Wednesday evicted a band of rebellious ex-nuns from a Polish convent they had occupied illegally since rejecting a Vatican order in 2005 to replace their mother superior, a charismatic leader who reportedly claimed to have religious visions.
A locksmith opened the gate to the walled compound, and police then pushed their way in and arrested the mother superior, Jadwiga Ligocka, as well as a former Franciscan friar who had locked himself away with the nuns.
Hours later, after mild resistance and insults from the ex-nuns and the intervention of psychologists, about 65 defeated ex-nuns, escorted by policewomen, walked out calmly in their black habits -- some carrying guitars, others tambourines or small drums -- and boarded buses.
The women had taken over the building in Kazmierz Dolny in eastern Poland in rebellion against the Vatican, which had ordered the Mother Jadwiga's replacement two years ago.
"They were disobedient," said Mieczyslaw Puzewicz, a spokesman for the Lublin diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican formally expelled the women from their Sisters of Bethany order last year, but has revealed almost nothing about the dispute.
About 150 police in riot gear went into the compound to find the ex-nuns defiantly singing religious songs and playing instruments, Puzewicz said.
Several nuns -- many of whom appeared to be in their 20s -- screamed at police officers, calling them "servants of Satan," according to police video footage viewed by The Associated Press.
Lublin Archbishop Jozef Zycinski called the police operation a last resort meant to help the ex-nuns.
"Today's police intervention was a sort of act of desperate aid for people who for the past two years have lived in very unusual conditions, in a closed environment, in seclusion, in uncertainty, where various forms of thought take shape," the PAP news agency quoted Zycinski as saying.
"One could clearly see that tension and aggression during today's intervention."
Several hours into the operation, the women began leaving. Among them were Russian and Belarusian citizens who had been living in Poland illegally, police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said. They will likely be deported, he added.
Puzewicz said the ex-nuns appeared to have been "manipulated" psychologically. He did not say who he thought was manipulating them but said the former Franciscan friar, Roman Komaryczko, had had a "negative influence" on Mother Jadwiga.
Komaryczko was charged with disturbing the peace. Prosecutors also planned to bring the same charge against Mother Jadwiga, said Robert Bednarczyk from the Lublin prosecutors' office.
During questioning, the ex-friar "didn't respond to questions in any topical, concrete or logical way or to the charges," Bednarczyk said. "He also didn't give any logical answer to his place of residence, but instead made some religious references."
Mother Jadwiga reportedly is a charismatic figure who claimed to have religious visions, and was attempting to transform the convent into a contemplative order.
The Lublin diocese hinted at that portrait in a statement on its Web site that said "Mother Jadwiga's private revelations, and the fact that she made it a guideline to stick by them, caused unease to the congregation."
When the Vatican formally expelled the nuns in 2006, the women refused to leave the building and cut themselves off from the outside world.
The church eventually sought legal action to remove them, and a court in nearby Pulawy ordered their eviction. The convent's electricity was cut off earlier this year, but sympathetic local residents secretly funneled them food at night.