Pope Francis has been, throughout his papacy, inconsistent in his handling of the sexual abuses that have flourished within the Roman Catholic Church. While denouncing the abuse, he has not made any milestones in seeking actual legal consequences, or any real consequences at all, for these priests.
This was compounded when, on Tuesday, the Holy Father addressed sexual abuse of nuns within the church. Francis had been silent on the issue until yesterday, but when he was asked to comment during a news conference aboard the papal plane, returning to Rome from his trip to the United Arab Emirates, he admitted that abuse does happen.
“It’s true,” Francis said, according to The New York Times. “There are priests and bishops who have done that.”
What exactly is he saying priests and bishops have done? Well, the Vatican’s women’s magazine, Women Church World, released an article about the abuses, saying that Catholic nuns have accused clergy of sexual abuse in recent years in India, Africa, Latin America, and in Italy. The magazine also mentioned nuns having abortions or giving birth to the children of priests.
Reports of this kind of abuse allegedly date as far as the 1990s, when priests were said to be sexually abusing nuns in Africa because they were considered “safe” targets during the HIV crisis. Lucetta Scaraffia, editor of Women Church World, wrote: “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.”
A spokesperson for the Vatican, Alessandro Gisotti, attempted to “clarify” what Pope Francis meant in his statement regarding “sexual slavery,” saying that he “meant ‘manipulation,’ a form of abuse of power which is reflected also in sexual abuse.” But Pope Francis was right to say sexual slavery, because these nuns are trapped in an institution that stops them from being able to address what is happening to them.
Issues of sexual slavery in nunneries also happened during the papacy of Francis’ predecessor Benedict XVI, who, in 2005, dissolved a religious order of nuns “because a certain slavery of women had crept in, slavery to the point of sexual slavery on the part of clergy or the founder,” according to the AP.
Addressing it may be the first step in validating the experiences these women have gone through, but that is only one step in the process. In order to enact the change Francis very much wants to be the champion of, it means cleansing of the institution with literal fire and brimstone. The Times piece points out that a top official in the Vatican office that handles sexual abuse allegations was forced to quit last month after a former nun accused him of making sexual advances during confession.
“Should more be done? Yes,” Francis said. “Do we have the will? Yes, but it is a path that we have already begun.”
The path to Hell is paved with good intentions. It is my hope that Francis, at the world’s bishops’ conferences at the end of February in Rome, will take a much harder stance on flushing out this injustice. Otherwise, his words are nice, but they are not enough by any generous estimate.
(via NPR, image Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
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