Victims of the Tax State: The Singing Nun

Shortly after the Kennedy assassination, a most unlikely celebrity bested the Beatles on the charts. She was Sister Luc Gabriel (Jeanine Deckers), better known as "The Singing Nun." Deckers had joined a Belgian convent in 1959. The songs she wrote and performed (particularly “Dominique,” a salute to the founder of her religious order) proved so popular that her superiors persuaded her to sell recordings to visitors to raise money for convent. She reluctantly agreed. Soon after that followed a recording contract, an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, and finally a biopic, “The Singing Nun,” (later described by Deckers as “fiction”) starring Debbie Reynolds. Deckers signed over any profits to the convent.

Disillusioned with the authoritarianism of the church, she left in 1967 to pursue a solo singing career. She recorded an album, which included “Glory Be to God for the Golden Pill” praising benefits of the birth control pill for women. The comeback was a flop. Also, in 1967, she moved in with Annie Pécher, a childhood friend (who may have also been her lover). The two founded a school for autistic children.

At this point, the Belgian government tragically entered the scene. Using a dubious loophole in a contract she signed with the church (which had reaped all the profits from “Dominique”), it said she owned it between $50,000 and $80,000 of back taxes. The government was unrelenting in pressing its claim. Depressed and weighed down by debt, Deckers resumed her singing career in a last ditch attempt to pay the taxes and raise enough to keep the school open. As part of the comeback, she recorded a promotional video featuring a disco version of “Dominique.” See it here.

Her timing was terrible. Disco was on life-support in 1982 and it was another flop. The school closed. With no way left to pay the government, Deckers and Pécher committed suicide together. Pécher left this note: “We do suffer really too much... We have no more place in life, no ideal except God, but we can't eat that. We go to eternity in peace. We trust God will forgive us. He saw us both suffer and he won't let us down.”

David Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute and editor of the Independent book, The Voluntary City: Choice, Community, and Civil Society (with Peter Gordon and Alexander Tabarrok).
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