For first time, Pope acknowledges sexual abuse of nuns by priests

Saul Bowman
February 10, 2019

Reporting by The Associated Press and other news media, as well as the reckoning demanded by the #MeToo movement, has brought the issue of sexual violence against nuns to the fore, such that #Nunstoo has been trending in recent days.

It was the pope's first-ever public acknowledgment of the problem of priests and bishops sexually abusing nuns.

Francis noted that Pope Benedict XVI had taken action against a France-based order that admitted the priest who founded it had violated his chastity vows with his female recruits. The issue hit the headlines past year after a nun accused an Indian bishop of repeatedly raping her in a case that triggered rare dissent within the country's Catholic Church.

"There have been priests and also bishops who have done that, and I believe that it may still be being done", Francis said of the sexual assault of nuns.

He added: "I think it's still taking place because it's not as though the moment you become aware of something it goes away. We've been working on this for a long time". Do we have to do more? Yes. Is there the will? Yes.

In this era, he said, when there is strong a temptation to discord between Christian and Islamic cultures, and considering religions as sources of conflict, "we wanted to give a further, clear and decisive sign, that instead it is possible to meet, it is possible to respect and dialogue".

Last November, the organisation representing the world's Catholic women's religious orders, the International Union of Superiors General, publicly denounced the "culture of silence and secrecy" that contributed to abuse, and urged nuns to report abuse to law enforcement.

The February issue of Women Church World, a supplement distributed with the Vatican's Osservatore Romano newspaper, warned that nuns have been silent over abuse for decades for fear of retaliation.

"When the Holy Father, referring to the dissolution of a Congregation, spoke of 'sexual slavery, ' he meant 'manipulation, ' a form of abuse of power which is reflected also in sexual abuse", said Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti, according to CNN.

Francis said the problem could be found "anywhere" but was prevalent in "some new congregations and in some regions". "We're working on it".

In the Indian case, Bishop Franco Mulakkal was arrested on September 21 in the southern state of Kerala on suspicion of raping the nun in question 13 times between 2014 and 2016. The bishop, Franco Mulakkal, was subsequently arrested and faces prosecution.

POGGIOLI: Just last month, a top official in the Vatican doctrinal office that handles allegations of clerical sex abuse resigned after a former nun accused him of making sexual advances during confession.

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