"I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."
For the first time on February 5, 2019, Pope Francis publicly acknowledged the fact that that nuns in Roman Catholic Churches have persistently been subject to sexual abuse by priests and bishops.
Clerics have often been accused by Catholic nuns in recent years of sexual abuse in India, Africa, Latin America and in Italy. Last week, a Vatican magazine mentioned that there have been incidents of nuns giving birth to children of priests and also having abortions. Francis, however, had earlier never raised the issue, and only spoke about it when there was a news conference aboard the papal plane from his trip to the United Arab Emirates to Rome.
“It’s true. There are priests and bishops who have done that,” Francis said.
In November last year, the “culture of silence and secrecy” was denounced publicly by the International Union of Superiors General, the organisation that represents the world’s Catholic women’s religious orders, as it contributed to abuse. Nuns were also urged to report abuse to law enforcement, reported The New York Times.
Last month, a top Vatican office official resigned after being accused by a former nun of making sexual advances towards her. The official, Rev. Hermann Geissler, chief of staff in the Vatican’s doctrinal office, used to handle allegations of sexual abuse. He, however, denied that he had done any such thing.
The abuse was blamed on the outsize power of priests by an article in Women Church World, which is the women’s magazine of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
“The abuse of women results in procreation and so is at the origin of the scandal of imposed abortions and children not recognized by priests,” wrote the article’s author, Lucetta Scaraffia. Scarrafia is Women Church World’s editor in chief and also a feminist intellectual.
When Francis was asked about the developments, he said that the Vatican was working on the issue which happened to be a continuing problem. He further said that some priests have been suspended as well. He said that there is more to be done and they have the will, and it is a path they have begun already.
Recalling that his predecessor, Benedict XVI, was “a strong man”, Francis said that he had sought to remove all priests who were involved in sexual abuse and “sexual slavery”.
Speaking about a particular case, Francis said that an order of nuns had been dissolved by Benedict “because certain slavery of women had crept in, slavery to the point of sexual slavery on the part of clergy or the founder.”
However, Alessandro Gisotti, a Vatican spokesman, later claimed that Francis had referred to the Contemplative Sisters of Saint-Jean, a group in France that confronted several problems.
Nuns being sexually abused is not new, although it does not get as much attention as the abuse of children and young men get.
In the 1990s, several reports were written by leaders of women’s religious orders, urging that the abuse of nuns by priests be addressed. During this time, the crisis of child sex abuse was gradually emerging in the United States.
Several examples from Africa claimed that many priests had turned to nuns for sex during the spread of AIDS. Maura O’Donohue, a sister, had written of a case that happened in Malawi, where in one congregation, nearly 30 sisters were impregnated by priests. They were replaced when they complained to the archbishop.
In India, a bishop called Franco Mulakkal was accused by a nun of raping her repeatedly between 2014 and 2016. The local Catholic community was divided when he was arrested, and several priests celebrated when he was released on bail.
The Vatican also investigating a high-profile case in Chile, where there were reports of nuns being abused by priests. Former and current nuns claimed that when the abuse was reported by the women, they were removed from the order.
An investigation by The Associated Press reported that in cases of abuse of nuns in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, the Vatican had not punished the offenders enough, not supported the victims.
Sister Rose Pacatte from Los Angeles told leaders of women’s religious orders at a conference in Pakistan recently that reporting abuse to a bishop or a priest is not a good idea as might themselves be the offenders or might protect the guilty.
Mary Dispenza is a former nun working with a victims’ advocacy group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, was the woman behind popularizing the hashtag #nunstoo on Twitter. Her intention was to collect stories of people who have been abused by nuns, but instead gathered stories about nuns being abused by priests.
She said that what makes her angry is that the Pope did not really stand up and speak out about the tragedy, and about the action he will take.
In recent years, a big scandal to hit Roman Catholicism has been the failure of church officials to take proper legal action against priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse. The Pope’s admission now indeed opens up a path to fight against the long-running scandal of priests engaging in such crimes. The Logical Indian hopes this will also provide recognition to nuns who have been fighting to get their voices heard.
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