Vat­i­can in­ves­ti­gates af­ter nuns re­port sex abuse

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - News - NI­COLE WIN­FIELD

VAT­I­CAN CITY — The Vat­i­can has launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a small Chilean re­li­gious or­der of nuns af­ter some sis­ters de­nounced sex­ual abuse at the hands of priests and mis­treat­ment by their su­pe­ri­ors, a turn­ing point that shows the Holy See is now will­ing to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual vi­o­lence against nuns.

The scan­dal at the In­sti­tute of the Good Sa­mar­i­tan was re­vealed pub­licly in an in­ves­tiga­tive re­port by Chilean na­tional tele­vi­sion ear­lier this year at the height of anger over how Chilean Catholic hier­ar­chy cov­ered up decades of sex­ual abuse of chil­dren by priests.

In the re­port, a half-dozen cur­rent and for­mer nuns said sis­ters were thrown out of the or­der af­ter they de­nounced the abuse to their su­pe­ri­ors. The re­port fol­lowed the sis­ters as they tes­ti­fied be­fore two Vat­i­can in­ves­ti­ga­tors sent to Chile by Pope Fran­cis to get to the bot­tom of the church-wide scan­dal there.

In a state­ment, the Vat­i­can Em­bassy to Chile an­nounced that an “apos­tolic vis­i­ta­tion,” or in­ves­ti­ga­tion, had be­gun Wed­nes­day in the in­sti­tute. It said that, over the com­ing months, the in­quiry would take tes­ti­mony from cur­rent and for­mer sis­ters and those af­fil­i­ated with the in­sti­tute so the Vat­i­can can un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion and make what­ever changes are nec­es­sary.

The in­sti­tute is lo­cated in the dio­cese of Talca, which since 1996 had been headed by Bishop Ho­ra­cio del Car­men Valen­zuela Abarca. Pope Fran­cis re­moved Valen­zuela as bishop in June as part of his cleanup of the Chilean hier­ar­chy. Valen­zuela had been one of the bish­ops trained by Chile’s most in­fa­mous preda­tor priests, the Rev. Fer­nando Karadima.

As a dioce­san in­sti­tute of con­se­crated life, the Good Sa­mar­i­tan or­der was wholly de­pen­dent on the bishop and un­der his au­thor­ity.

The Vat­i­can in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the abuse there marks a turn­ing point of sorts as the Holy See in re­cent years has fo­cused its at­ten­tion on re­spond­ing to the abuse of mi­nors by priests. But re­cently, adult nuns have be­gun de­nounc­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence at the hands of priests and bish­ops, an abuse of power that has be­come more rec­og­nized in the #MeToo era.

The Vat­i­can did send an in­ves­ti­ga­tor in 2014 when sem­i­nar­i­ans and priests re­ported sex­ual mis­con­duct claims against their su­pe­rior, the late Scot­tish Car­di­nal Keith O’Brien. Fran­cis even­tu­ally re­moved O’Brien’s rights and priv­i­leges as a car­di­nal.

A sim­i­lar case broke out this year in the U.S. in­volv­ing disgraced ex-Car­di­nal Theodore McCar­rick. The scan­dal was sparked by an al­le­ga­tion that McCar­rick abused a teenage al­tar boy but in­ten­si­fied when adult ex-sem­i­nar­i­ans re­ported that he rou­tinely pres­sured them to sleep with him.

An As­so­ci­ated Press ex­pose this sum­mer, which cited the Chilean case and oth­ers in Europe, Africa and In­dia, found that the Vat­i­can had long known about the prob­lem of the sex­ual vi­o­lence com­mit­ted against re­li­gious sis­ters but done next to noth­ing to stop it.

Church au­thor­i­ties have long down­played the preva­lence of the prob­lem, of­ten blam­ing the nun for se­duc­ing a priest when a scan­dal be­came known.

The is­sue, though, has gained such promi­nence that the in­ter­na­tional as­so­ci­a­tion of the world’s re­li­gious sis­ters re­cently is­sued an un­prece­dented state­ment urg­ing that nuns re­port any abuse they had suf­fered to po­lice and their su­pe­ri­ors.

The state­ment from the Union of In­ter­na­tional Su­pe­ri­ors Gen­eral, which rep­re­sents 500,000 of the world’s 660,000 nuns, was is­sued to mark the U.N.’s day for the elim­i­na­tion of vi­o­lence against women, a strong show of sol­i­dar­ity with women who are vic­tims of sex­ual vi­o­lence.

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