Catholic nuns urge re­port­ing of sex­ual abuse

The State (Sunday) - - News - BY NI­COLE WIN­FIELD

The Catholic Church’s global or­ga­ni­za­tion of nuns has de­nounced the “cul­ture of si­lence and se­crecy” sur­round­ing sex­ual abuse in the church and is urg­ing sis­ters who have been abused to re­port the crimes to po­lice and their su­pe­ri­ors.

The In­ter­na­tional Union of Su­pe­ri­ors Gen­eral, which rep­re­sents more than 500,000 sis­ters world­wide, vowed to help nuns who have been abused to find the courage to re­port it, and pledged to help vic­tims heal and seek jus­tice.

The state­ment, is­sued on the eve of the U.n.des­ig­nated In­ter­na­tional Day for the Elim­i­na­tion of Vi­o­lence Against Women, was the first from the Rome-based UISG since the abuse scan­dal erupted anew this year and as the sex­ual abuse of adult nuns by cler­gy­men has also come to light. The Associated Press re­ported ear­lier this year that the Vat­i­can has known for decades about the prob­lem of priests and bish­ops prey­ing on nuns, but has done next to noth­ing to stop it.

In the state­ment Fri­day, the UISG didn’t spec­ify clergy as the ag­gres­sors. While such abuse is well known in parts of Africa, and an In­dian case of the al­leged rape of a nun by a bishop is mak­ing head­lines, there have also been cases of sex­ual abuse com­mit­ted by women against other women within con­gre­ga­tions.

The UISG state­ment was broad, con­demn­ing what it called the “pat­tern of abuse that is preva­lent within the church and so­ci­ety to­day,” cit­ing sex­ual, ver­bal and emo­tional abuse as types of mis­treat­ment that fes­ters in unequal power re­la­tions and de­means the dig­nity of its vic­tims.

“We con­demn those who sup­port the cul­ture of si­lence and se­crecy, of­ten un­der the guise of ‘pro­tec­tion' of an in­sti­tu­tion’s rep­u­ta­tion or nam­ing it ‘part of one’s cul­ture,’ ” the group said.

“We ad­vo­cate for trans­par­ent civil and crim­i­nal re­port­ing of abuse whether within re­li­gious con­gre­ga­tions, at the par­ish or dioce­san lev­els, or in any pub­lic arena,” the state­ment said.

To mark the U.N. day call­ing for an end to vi­o­lence against women, the head of the Ital­ian bish­ops’ con­fer­ence, Car­di­nal Gualtiero Bas­setti, is­sued a video mes­sage on the sub­ject - but didn’t men­tion sex­ual vi­o­lence against sis­ters by fel­low cler­gy­men, ev­i­dence of how taboo the sub­ject is within the church hi­er­ar­chy.

An AP in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that cases of priest abus­ing nuns have emerged in Europe, Africa, South Amer­ica and Asia, un­der­scor­ing how sis­ters’ sec­ond-class sta­tus in the church has con­trib­uted to a power im­bal­ance where women can be mis­treated by men with near im­punity.

While some nuns are find­ing their voices, buoyed by the #Metoo move­ment, many vic­tims re­main re­luc­tant to come for­ward. Ex­perts told AP sis­ters have a well-founded fear they won’t be be­lieved and will in­stead be painted as the se­ducer who cor­rupted the priest. Of­ten the sis­ter who de­nounces abuse by a priest is pun­ished, in­clud­ing with ex­pul­sion from her con­gre­ga­tion, while the priest’s vo­ca­tion is pre­served at all cost.

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