Catholic nuns tell of per­va­sive sex abuse at the hands of clergy

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - WORLD -

VAT­I­CAN CITY: Rev­e­la­tions that a prom­i­nent US car­di­nal sex­u­ally abused and ha­rassed adult sem­i­nar­i­ans have ex­posed an abuse of power that has shocked Catholics.

But the Vat­i­can has long been aware of its het­ero­sex­ual equiv­a­lent – the sex­ual abuse of nuns by priests and bish­ops – and done lit­tle to stop it, an anal­y­sis has found.

Cases of abused nuns have emerged in Europe, Africa, South Amer­ica and Asia, show­ing the prob­lem is global and per­va­sive, thanks to the sis­ters’ sec­ond-class sta­tus in the church and their in­grained sub­servience to the men who run it.

Yet some nuns are find­ing their voices, buoyed by the #MeToo move­ment and the grow­ing recog­ni­tion that even adults can be vic­tims of sex­ual abuse. They are go­ing pub­lic in part to de­nounce years of in­ac­tion by church lead­ers, even after stud­ies on the prob­lem in Africa were re­ported to the Vat­i­can in the 1990s.

“It opened a great wound in­side of me,” one nun said. “I pre­tended it didn’t hap­pen.”

Wear­ing a full re­li­gious habit and clutch­ing her rosary, the wo­man broke nearly two decades of si­lence to talk about the time in 2000 when the priest to who she was con­fess­ing her sins forced him­self on her.

A dif­fer­ent priest made an ad­vance on her a year later.

The ex­tent of the abuse of nuns is un­clear, at least out­side the Vat­i­can. How­ever, this week, about half a dozen sis­ters in a small con­gre­ga­tion in Chile went pub­lic on na­tional TV to tell of abuse by priests and other nuns and how their su­pe­ri­ors did noth­ing to stop it.

A nun in In­dia re­cently filed a for­mal po­lice com­plaint ac­cus­ing a bishop of rape, some­thing that would have been un­think­able even a year ago. And cases in Africa have come up. In 2013, for ex­am­ple, a well­known priest in Uganda wrote a let­ter to his su­pe­ri­ors that men­tioned “priests ro­man­ti­cally in­volved with re­li­gious sis­ters” – for which he was promptly sus­pended from the church un­til he apol­o­gised in May.

“I am so sad it took so long for this to come into the open, be­cause there were re­ports long ago,” Kar­lijn De­ma­sure, one of the church’s lead­ing ex­perts on clergy sex­ual abuse and abuse of power, said.

The Vat­i­can de­clined to com­ment on what mea­sures, if any, it has taken to as­sess the scope of the prob­lem glob­ally, or to pun­ish of­fend­ers and care for vic­tims. A Vat­i­can of­fi­cial said it was up to lo­cal church lead­ers to sanc­tion priests who sex­u­ally abused sis­ters.

The of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he wasn’t au­tho­rised to speak on the is­sue, said the church had fo­cused much of its at­ten­tion on pro­tect­ing chil­dren but that vul­ner­a­ble adults “de­serve the same pro­tec­tion”.

“Con­se­crated women have to be en­cour­aged to speak up when they are mo­lested,” the of­fi­cial said. “Bish­ops have to be en­cour­aged to take them se­ri­ously and make sure the priests are pun­ished if guilty.”

But be­ing taken se­ri­ously is of­ten the tough­est ob­sta­cle for sis­ters who are sex­u­ally abused, said De­ma­sure.

“They (the priests) can al­ways say, ‘she wanted it,’” De­ma­sure said.

The re­ports in the 1990s were pre­pared by mem­bers of re­li­gious or­ders for top church of­fi­cials. In 1994, the late Sis­ter Maura O’Dono­hue wrote about a six-year, 23-na­tion sur­vey, in which she learned of 29 nuns who had been im­preg­nated in one con­gre­ga­tion. The re­ports were never meant to be made pub­lic but the US Na­tional Catholic Re­porter put them on­line in 2001. – AP/ANA

EPA-EFE/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA)

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REUTERS/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA)

Pro­test­ers march against cor­rup­tion in­volv­ing judges, prose­cu­tors, politi­cians and busi­ness­men, in Lima, Peru, on Fri­day.

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