Women in churches speak out against culture of sex abuse – Swarajya Staff

Nuns protesting in Kerala

Swarajya LogoThe Kerala nun rape case caught the attention of media last year. The accused bishop Franco Mulakkal was arrested only after nuns carried out an agitation He has since been released on bail. A few days after the bail, a key witness in the case Father Kuriakose was mysteriously found dead. The nuns also claimed that they faced a threat from Mulakkal. – Swarajya Staff

As an issue that has long been under the wraps, sexual abuse of nuns has been gaining ground in the era of #MeToo and a #NunsToo movement has also emerged, reports NPR.

Women Church World, a supplement of the official Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano published an article in the February issue by editor Lucetta Scaraffia based on hundreds of stories she heard from nuns of sexual abuse they faced in the Church. She blamed abuse of women and minors on the clerical culture of the all-powerful priesthood.

“These nuns believe they’re the guilty ones for having seduced that holy man into committing sin because that’s what they’ve always been taught,” she says.

Even worse, when they become pregnant, they become outcasts from their orders. “These poor women are forced to leave their order and live alone raising their child with no help,” she says. “Sometimes they’re forced to have abortions—paid by the priest because nuns have no money.”

Sister Catherine Aubin, a French Dominican nun who teaches theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome says that women inside the male Vatican world are “unobserved, invisible, ignored and not respected.”

The first extensive report on sexual abuse of nuns was by in 1994 by an Irish nun, Sister Maura O’Donohue covering more than 20 countries. She linked sexual abuse of nuns in Africa to the AIDS epidemic. Religious sisters became target of sexual assault as they were considered less likely to carry the virus. She reported several cases of nuns being impregnated by priests and then being thrown out when they complained. She also noted cases of abortions paid by the priests to get rid of the pregnancy. Women often died in such procedures.

O’Donohue briefed the Vatican about her findings but her report was shelved, only to be brought to light in 2010. The Church has been globally criticised for a culture of secrecy and silence around rampant sexual abuse in the Church. Recently, Pope Francis had spoken out on the issue publicly.

“I think the movement of #MeToo has absolutely an influence on the fact that the abuse of nuns comes into the press and on the public forum,” says Karlijn Demasure, a Belgian expert on sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults who teaches at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

The Situation In India

Closer home, the Kerala nun rape case caught the attention of media last year. The accused bishop Franco Mulakkal was arrested only after nuns carried out an agitation and has since been released on bail. He was welcomes with garlands and flowers on his release. Few days after the bail, a key witness in the case Father Kuriakose was mysteriously found dead. The nuns also claimed that they faced a threat from Mulakkal.

The protesting nuns have been subjected to several hardships since then. They have been ordered out of the Kottayam convent where they stayed, a decision they said meant to punish them for speaking out. They alleged that despite being relieved of his official duties the rape-accused bishop still wielded influence in the church. The Syro-Malabar church issued a directive to “discipline” protesting nuns.

In a notice served to the victim nun recently, the congregation called the nun’s participation in panel discussions of television channels and authoring articles for non-Christian newspapers a “grave scandal” and threatened them to leave themselves or be ousted. The nuns were also denied money for medicines and essential goods as a punishment for going public with their accusations.

The nuns also approached the Communist government in Kerala led by Pinarayi Vijayan, writing him letters personally, requesting his intervention in the case. The nuns said that they were being punished for speaking out and that their transfer from the convent should be quashed. The cold shoulder from the Kerala government despite repeated requests and protests, in sharp contrast to its zealous conduct in Sabarimala issue, invited criticism from different media sections.

The Church is said to wield immense financial and political power. Recently, the Kerala government backtracked on the legislation to promote fair and transparent handling of Church properties after protests. The legislation comes at the heels of several instances coming to light of maladministration of Church properties, and was a watered down version of a previous draft. – Swarajya, 25 March 2019

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2 Responses

  1. Vatican Newspaper

    Vatican women editors resign from women’s magazine – BBC – Vatican City – 26 March 2019

    The all-women board on the Vatican women’s magazine have resigned citing a campaign to discredit them and put them “under the direct control of men”.

    Founder Lucetta Scaraffia said pressure on staff at Women Church World had intensified after it had published reports about sexual abuse of nuns by other members of the clergy.

    The magazine comes as a monthly supplement in the Vatican daily paper L’Osservatore Romano.

    Her criticism was made in an open letter to Pope Francis.

    Last month, the Pope publicly acknowledged that nuns had been abused by the clergy and said the Church was still attempting to address the “scandal”. He was speaking days after Women Church World highlighted a culture of abuse of women.

    Why did the editors quit?

    “We are throwing in the towel because we feel surrounded by a climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimisation,” said Ms Scaraffia, in a letter addressed to Pope Francis. She said later that there were 11 women on the magazine and they had all quit.

    It was seen as a turning point in the treatment of women’s issues by both the newspaper and the wider Vatican and was published in Spanish, French and online in English.

    For the first time, a group of independent women had been able to work at the heart of the Vatican, with the support of two popes, said Ms Scaraffia, referring to Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI.

    Although they had not been first to speak of exploitation and sexual abuse that nuns had suffered, they had reported it after the facts had emerged, and had received letters from ordained women who had told of their experiences, she said. “We could no longer stay silent,” she wrote.

    But she said the Vatican newspaper’s new editor, Andrea Monda, had tried to control the magazine’s editorial line and bring in external collaborators. The freedom of speech – “parresia” – that Pope Francis had so often sought was being abandoned.

    “They are returning to the practice of selecting women who ensure obedience,” she said.

    Mr Monda reacted on Tuesday with a promise to continue publishing Women Church World and he denied that anyone had been selected on the basis of obedience.

    He insisted he had guaranteed the magazine’s board complete autonomy and had not undermined them.

    “In no way have I chosen anyone, man or woman, with the criterion of obedience,” Mr Monda said in a statement.


  2. The sexual exploitation of women and boys has existed in the Church since the very beginning. When Emperor Constantine called the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, he brought a thousand prostitutes and dancing boys with him to keep the assembled bishops entertained. This was the same council where Jesus, still considered only a prophet in the line of Moses, was raised to godhood by a a vote of the “entertained” bishops (there were about 250 of them present). The two Libyan bishops who voted against the deification of Jesus were assassinated in their beds that same night.


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