St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. A new magazine article marks a significant public acknowledgment from inside the Vatican of a decades-long pattern of rape and other sexual abuse of nuns by priests. (Andreas Solaro / AFP/Getty Images)
The Vatican women’s magazine is denouncing the rape and other sexual abuse of nuns by priests and the resulting scandal of religious sisters having abortions or giving birth to children who go unrecognized by their fathers.
The February issue of Women Church World, a monthly magazine, on Friday cited Pope Francis’ own analysis of abuse, saying that unchecked clerical power was at the root of the problem of priests preying on young children as well as adult nuns.
It said nuns have been silenced for years by fear of retaliation against them or their orders if they report the priests who molested or raped them.
The publication marks a significant public acknowledgment from inside the Vatican of the problem that the Holy See has long known about but has done next to nothing to address.
“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: an act of power in which touch becomes a violation of one’s personal intimacy,” editor Lucetta Scaraffia wrote in Friday’s article.
It noted that religious sisters told Vatican officials as far back as the 1990s about priests sexually abusing nuns in Africa because they were considered “safe” targets during the HIV crisis.
While little or nothing changed, sisters from the developing world and also wealthier countries are beginning to denounce their abuse as part of an overall demand for greater power for women in the church — part of the #MeToo movement.
“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 recognized by priests — the condition of oppression of women in the church will never change,” Scaraffia wrote.
The issue has been in the headlines lately after a nun in India filed a police report accusing her bishop of rape. The bishop has denied her claims, and the controversy has split her religious community, which is financially dependent on the diocese.
“The priests and even more, the bishops, have a huge power, not just over a single nun but over a whole congregation,” Scaraffia told the AP in an interview Friday. “So if an abused nun goes to her superior general and says that she has been abused, she will be told, ‘Keep quiet, because if you don’t this bishop will turn against us.’”
Women Church World, which is published in Italian, French and Spanish, last year made headlines with an issue devoted to work and an article denouncing how nuns are often treated like indentured servants by cardinals and bishops, for whom they cook and clean for next to no pay.
In an opening editorial, one of Italy’s leading Jewish intellectuals, Anna Foa, said the abuse scandal had transformed a caress “into an expression in and of itself suspect and practically obscene.”
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