Catholic nuns denounce 'culture of silence and secrecy' surrounding sex abuse in church

Statement follows reports Vatican has known about problem of priests and bishops preying on nuns for decades, but has done next to nothing to stop it

Samuel Osborne
Sunday 25 November 2018 01:28 GMT
A nun waits for the arrival of Pope Francis for his weekly general audience, in St Peter's Square at the Vatican
A nun waits for the arrival of Pope Francis for his weekly general audience, in St Peter's Square at the Vatican

The Catholic Church‘s global organisation of nuns has denounced the “culture of silence and secrecy” surrounding sexual abuse in the church.

The International Union of Superiors General, which represents more than 500,000 sisters worldwide, urged nuns who have been abused to report the crimes to police and their superiors.

The group 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 UN-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.

Earlier this year it was reported 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 issued on Friday, the UISG did not 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 currently 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.”

'I beg the Lord’s forgiveness' for child abuse 'betrayal' says Pope Francis at a service in Knock, Ireland

Earlier this year an investigation found that cases of priests abusing nuns have emerged in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia, underscoring how sisters’ second -lass 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, encouraged by the #MeToo movement, many victims remain reluctant to come forward.

The Vatican has known for years about the problem in Africa after a series of major studies were commissioned in the 1990s.

Religious sisters reported that African nuns were being particularly targeted by priests seeking to avoid HIV transmission from prostitutes or other women.

Pope: 'The failure of the Church...remains a source of pain and shame'

It comes after Pennsylvania’s attorney general claimed to have evidence the Vatican was aware of a systematic cover up for decades of sex abuse carried out by Catholic priests.

“I can’t specifically speak to Pope Francis,” Josh Shapiro said when asked whether or not the the pontiff was aware of the abuses. But, he said: “We have evidence that the Vatican had knowledge of a cover up.”

In the UK, a report found two leading Catholic schools “prioritised monks and their own reputations over the protection of children” who were sexually abused.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) found children as young as seven were abused at at Ampleforth, in Yorkshire, and children as young as 11 targeted at Downside, in Somerset.

The Pope condemned the “atrocities” of child sex abuse and cover-ups by the clergy in a letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, describing allegations against the Church as “crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness” in victims, their families and the religious community.

He also begged for God’s forgiveness for the “open wound” of child sex abuse in Ireland as he visited the country in August.

Additional reporting by AP

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