Feb 8, 2019

Catholic Nuns Are Saying #Metoo

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

The dumpster fire of Vatican scandal continues with the revelation of widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests known of and concealed for decades. In this case it's the Church's own nuns who have been abused, enslaved, shamed, and silenced by the Catholic hierarchy. I would give the Vatican credit for displaying their dirty laundry in one of their own publications, but news of this issue has been burbling to the surface for some time now, and drew increasing scrutiny during the "year of hell" that was 2018.  Putting the issue front and center in their own women's magazine looks to me like spin control, an attempt to get ahead of emerging scandal, but perhaps I'm cynical.

The February issue of "Women Church World," distributed alongside the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, says that religious sisters for years have not reported offences against them by priests for fear of retaliation.

Editor Lucetta Scaraffia writes that the issue “reflects on the theme of abuse, that is, perverse use of touch”.

. . .

The article says that reports of priests sexually abusing nuns in Africa were filed to the Vatican in the 1990s. Yet, nothing changed. Now, as part of the #Metoo movement, and as the sexual abuse of minors comes to the fore, women are beginning to publicly denouce [sic] their abuse.

"If the church continues to close its eyes to the scandal — made even worse by the fact that abuse of women brings about procreation and is therefore at the origin of forced abortions and children who aren't recognised by priests — the condition of oppression of women in the church will never change," Scaraffia wrote.

It is hard to imagine a greater hypocrisy than "forced abortions" in Catholic orders.

In the article, Pope Francis is given credit for assigning the blame properly, instead of blaming society, or worse, blaming victims, which at least breaks with Church's long history of doing both.

Last year, after The Associated Press and other media, reported on the scandal, the international association of women's religious orders urged sisters to report abuse to police and their superiors, a significant shattering of the silence that has long kept the problem secret. In the article, editor Lucetta Scaraffia notes that for centuries women in the church have been depicted as "dangerous and temptresses," which has complicated the acceptance within the Catholic hierarchy that they can be victims of unwanted sexual advances by priests.

"But here Pope Francis' analysis about abuse can be of some help: If you point to power, to clericalism, the abuse against religious sisters takes on another aspect and can finally be recognized for what it is: that is an act of power in which touch becomes a violation of one's personal intimacy," she wrote. The article noted that reports written by religious sisters were presented to Vatican officials in the 1990s about the problem of priests sexually abusing nuns in Africa — they were considered "safe" partners at the height of the HIV crisis.

So priests, who took vows of celibacy, practiced "safe sex" by raping equally celibate nuns. Let that sink in.

Days after the explosive revelation in Women Church World, Pope Francis officially broke his public silence on the matter, admitting that nuns have been, not only raped, but kept as sex slaves, and that it has been a known problem for decades.

Speaking to reporters while on a historic tour of the Middle East on Tuesday, the pontiff admitted that the Church had an issue, and the roots lay in society "seeing women as second class".

He said that priests and bishops had abused nuns, but said the Church was aware of the "scandal" and was "working on it", adding that a number of clerics had been suspended.

"It's a path that we've been on," he said.

"Pope Benedict had the courage to dissolve a female congregation which was at a certain level, because this slavery of women had entered it - slavery, even to the point of sexual slavery - on the part of clerics or the founder."

It is a shocking admission, not just of the occurrences, but of the secrecy that has surrounded them. Like so many crimes, the Church has endeavored to handle clerical misconduct quietly, silencing its victims to protect its reputation. But admitting it now is not courage. It's expediency, in the face of fresh scandal erupting all over the world. In India a bishop was arrested last September, for repeatedly raping a nun. Her pleas to the Vatican had gone unanswered.

The nun had made numerous complaints, including to the Vatican, but claimed she had gotten no church response to her allegations at the time. Pope Francis accepted the bishop's request to be relieved of his duties Sept. 20.

The nun had explained in a letter that her abuse had gone on for so long because "I had tremendous fear and shame to bring this out into the open. I feared suppression of the congregation and threats to my family members."

She had said many women and nuns suffer clerical abuse. Silence and inaction on the part of church officials to stem clerical abuse will have a "very adverse effect" on women and result in the church losing its credibility, she said.

Her case and others like it brought a call to action from the global organization of Mothers Superior.

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.

. . .

"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.

While it is good and very good that the Vatican is finally opening up about abuses of women who have devoted their lives to the Church and to God, it is, once again, late. And if their disclosure is not backed up with serious action and policy changes, it is meaningless.

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