On Tuesday, Pope Francis publicly acknowledged for the first time that Catholic priests and bishops had sexually abused nuns, in a break from the culture of silence and secrecy that has allowed abuses by the clergy to long go unchecked. Speaking aboard the papal plane, Francis was asked about an article published in Vatican magazine last week that detailed how nuns worldwide were forced into abortions or into giving birth to the children of priests.
“It’s true,” said Francis simply. “There are priests and bishops who have done that … Should more be done? Yes. Do we have the will? Yes. But it is a path that we have already begun.”
For some, the admission was an insufficient response to a long-running tragedy. “I’m really angered by the words of the pope just now,” Mary Dispenza told the New York Times on Tuesday. Dispenza is a former nun who works with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a victims’ advocacy group.
“I am angered by the Pope not standing up and really speaking out about the tragedy, and actions he will take,” she said.
While the church’s longstanding efforts to cover up the behavior of priests and other clergy who sexually abuse children has finally managed to become a point of some discussion in the Vatican in recent years, until Tuesday the upper echelons of Vatican leadership had refused to even acknowledge that nuns too were subject to rape, harassment, and other forms of abuse. The rampant and allegedly systemic nature of the abuse, however, has become harder and harder for the church to ignore. Just last month, the Vatican’s top official in charge of handling sexual abuse allegations, Rev. Hermann Geissler, resigned after being accused of sexually propositioning a former nun during confession. Geissler has denied the accusation.
According to Women Church World, the outsized power given to priests leaves nuns with little recourse when faced with inappropriate behavior or sexual advances. That is backed by countless disturbing accounts of abuse and subsequent coverups. As far back as the 1990s, Sister Maura O’Donohue reported a case in Malawi where 30 nuns in one congregation were impregnated by their priests, only for the nuns to face replacement after daring to come forward to the archbishop. An Indian nun’s decision to speak out about suffering rape at the hands of the Bishop presiding over her own religious order last summer led many other nuns to admit that they too had suffered abuse, but had been too afraid of retaliation by the church and their community to come forward.
Speaking at a recent conference in Pakistan, Sister Rose Pacatte of Los Angeles told her sisters not to “report to a bishop or priest as the first step” during a presentation on how to prevent sexual abuse.
“They may be the abusers or may protect them,” she warned.
Read the full story at The New York Times.