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Pope publicly acknowledges clergy sexual abuse of nuns

Pope Francis, flanked by Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti, answers reporters' questions aboard the plane after taking off from Panama City on Jan. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, Pool)

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis publicly acknowledged the scandal of priests and bishops sexually abusing nuns and vowed to do more to fight the problem, the latest sign that there is no end in sight to the Catholic Church’s abuse crisis — and that it now has a reckoning from the #MeToo movement.

Francis admitted to the problem for the first time in public during a news conference Tuesday (Feb. 5) while returning to Rome from the United Arab Emirates.

The acknowledgment comes just two weeks before he hosts an unprecedented gathering of bishops to craft a global response to the scandal of priestly predators who target children and the superiors who covered up the crimes.

Francis was asked about priests who target adult women — the religious sisters who are the backbone of the Catholic Church’s education, health care and social service ministries around the globe — and whether the Holy See might consider a similar universal approach to combat that issue.

“It’s not that everyone does this, but there have been priests and bishops who have,” Francis told reporters. “And I think that it’s continuing because it’s not like once you realize it that it stops. It continues. And for some time we’ve been working on it.”

“Should we do something more? Yes. Is there the will? Yes. But it’s a path that we have already begun,” Francis said.

The issue has come to the fore amid the Catholic Church’s overall reckoning with the sexual abuse of minors and the #MeToo-inspired acknowledgement that adults can be victims of abuse whenever there is an imbalance of power in a relationship. In the past year, The Associated Press and other media have reported on cases of abused nuns in India , Africa, Europe and South America — evidence that the problem is by no means limited to a certain geographic area.

In November, the organization representing all the world’s female Catholic religious orders, the International Union of Superiors General, publicly denounced the “culture of silence and secrecy” that prevented nuns from speaking out and urged sisters to report abuse to their superiors and police. And just last week, the women’s magazine of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano identified the clerical culture of the all-powerful clergy as the culprit.

The magazine, “Women Church World,” noted that the scandal involves a corollary: nuns being forced to abort the priests’ children or bear children that the priests refuse to recognize.

Francis’ acknowledgement of the problem comes as he prepares to decide the fate of the disgraced American ex-cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, who is accused of abusing minors as well as adult seminarians. That case also cast a spotlight on the issue of abusive power relationships, and whether the Catholic Church ought to consider seminarians and sisters as “vulnerable adults” when compared to the priests and bishops who control everything from their vocations to their studies and salaries.

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. Francis said the sisters had been reduced to “sexual slavery” at the hands of the Rev. Marie-Dominique Philippe and other priests.

The Community of St. Jean admitted in 2013 that Philippe had behaved “in ways that went against chastity” with several women in the order, according to the French Catholic newspaper La Croix. Francis’ comments about “sexual slavery” suggested that the relations were not consensual and could have involved abuse of conscience and power as well.

Phillipe died in 2006. Three years later, the local bishop imposed a new superior on the order’s contemplative branch of nuns. Some rejected the new leader and followed their old female superior to found a new institute in Spain. Benedict eventually dissolved that, a decision Francis held up Tuesday as evidence of Benedict’s hard line in the case.

He said Benedict acted “because a certain slavery of women had crept in, slavery to the point of sexual slavery on the part of clergy or the founder,” he said.

“Sometimes the founder takes away, or empties the freedom of the sisters. It can come to this,” Francis said.
Asked if any universal norms might be in the works to tackle the problem — as has been done to handle cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors — Francis implied that the priestly abuse of nuns was still being dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

“There are cases, usually in new congregations and in some regions more than others,” he said. “We’re working on it.”

“Pray that this goes forward,” he said of the Vatican efforts to fight it. “I want it to go forward.”

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Nicole Winfield

59 Comments

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  • It is common to abuse the daughters of Eve in all world religions inside or outside Christendom because they have no Bread of life.

  • Considering that this was a problem at the time of St. Teresa of Avila (A Doctor of the Church), I think “for the first time,” is a little disingenuous. The fact that the reporters think they have discovered something new, is kind of sad, for such sinful actions obscure the good news of the Pope’s visit. Yet in the end, the right will prevail.

  • Not to worry! I’m sure the defenders of the Great Holy Perfect Church will conjure up some way, nonetheless, to blame the abuse of nuns on gay priests. It’s sure to be convoluted and weird, and will make little sense to anyone else. But whatever it is, they’ll be satisfied with it, and continue intoning the mantra of “gay mafia, gay mafia, gay mafia.” 

  • As one of the resident anti-Catholics, nonsense like “defenders of the Great Holy Perfect Church will conjure up some way, nonetheless, to blame the abuse of nuns on gay priests” apparently spins your tiny propeller.

    In fact they will probably point to the fact that in a fallen creation in which Satan prowls looking for the ruin of souls, sin is everywhere including their church.

    As to “gay mafia”, it is irrefutable that the abuse in the Catholic Church was 80+% male-on-male, and that a contingent of homosexual prelates such as McCarrick, Weakland, and Bernadin undercut the proper operation of seminaries, promoted the advancement of their “friends”, and worked hard to prevent being accountable for their actions.

  • You underestimate the self-deluding power of the homophobia so often displayed in the RNS comment sections. PsiCop is right.

  • Gosh, with this story breaking right on the heels of the story of Father Hermann Geissler of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it’s almost as if something has been fundamentally flawed in the narrative that it’s all about the gay priests, isn’t it? And that keeping the gays out of the priesthood will solve the big mess of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church ….

    Watch for it: the loud homophobic wing of the Catholic commentariat will now start trying to claim that this narrative of priests and bishops abusing nuns is “another narrative” and has nothing to do with the only narrative they intend to see or talk about: that it’s a gay problem. Watch for the loud homophobic wing of the Catholic commentariat to try to claim now that what we’re learning about the extent of abuse of nuns and other vulnerable women by priests and bishops — a major problem in many parts of the Catholic world — is in no way a corrective to their mono-fixated homophobic explanation of the abuse crisis.

    But most of us were never deluded, in any case, about the commitment of that loud, mean homophobic wing of the church to finding and speaking truth, anyway, were we?

  • Dr. Lindsey, the fact that 80+% of the abuse was male-on-male, that prelates such as McCarrick, Weakland, and numerous others approved the ordination of known homosexuals contrary to Canon Law, and on and on and on mean – to you – nothing.

    On the other hand, you continue to promote and support the completely discredited fake news on the Covington Catholic boys:

    http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2019/02/covington-catholic-pro-life-maga-boys.html

    http://bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2019/01/yes-more-on-catholic-maga-boys.html

    so at least you’re consistent.

  • So? You more than do your share of criticism. We all here are anti-something. I notice that you are the first to respond (and rather quickly) to anything anti-Catholic. Are you waiting in the wings? But please tell me how the past actions of your Church are exempt from criticism.

  • “I notice that you are the first to respond (and rather quickly) to anything anti-Catholic.”

    I notice you find doing so offensive.

    I also respond (and rather quickly) to anything anti-Evangelical.

    Also you’ll see the same is true of anti-semitism.

    The reasons are fairly obvious.

    RNS became a litter box for anti-religious atheists, LGBT fans, and so on to the point where you couldn’t have an actual conversation about religion.

    It is one thing to note that Bishop So-and-So is/was a piker and did this-that-or-the-other.

    It is another to attack the religion itself.

    It is bigotry, and if you find it acceptable, you’re the one with the problem.

  • It is sad, really. There is so much joy in the Church. And in politics it has become cult-like. Many have bought into this “new religion,” that their rights come from government. This is propaganda, pure and simple.

  • Someone replied to this but I have no idea ’cause I’ve blocked whoever it is. I’ll bet it has something to do with the John Jay report, which isn’t really the “John Jay” report, it’s the USCCB’s report that they bought and paid for, so of course it says whatever they find convenient for it to say. Blaming this multigenerational, worldwide scandal on gays and “the sexual revolution” would certainly be convenient for them, since they’ve fumed and railed and screeched about both of those things for many years. 

  • Do you ever wonder why Mary Magdalene did not get written up more significantly in the Bible, and why churches tended to diss her for even what did appear about her in scripture?

  • The chances of this problem being worse in The Catholic Church than in the average mixed-gender workplace with power hierarchies (including all manner of Protestant churches and ministries) are——-wait for it——near zero.

  • “Asked if any universal norms might be in the works to tackle the problem — as has been done to handle cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors — Francis implied that the priestly abuse of nuns was still being dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

    This is rather wimpy, isn’t it?

    The problem is the extreme power of men/males and the lack of any power of women. You can’t solve this, Papa, without some change in the status of women within the Church. You need women’s voices to be present, to be heard, and to have authority and power in the Catholic Church because women are not going to be silent any more. And, neither will there be silence from the fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, male cousins, and male friends of those women who speak up. The men are speaking up, too, to say you need to listen.

    Time to start listening to the laity. Time to become a true synodal church, one that includes laity in all levels of church discussion, management, authority, and decision making.

    You clerical guys are too removed from the reality of life lived by lay people today, of how we form relationships, make decisions, direct and govern our lives and our communities. We only live part-time in the Catholic Community. Most of our time and focus are directed to the community of our family. We do have a community of faith in our local parish. But we also form, participate in, learn from, enjoy, accomplish much that is good – in many other forms of community – in our neighborhoods, the schools our kids attend, our work communities, in social club communities. We form, participate in, learn from, grow in, enjoy, recognize the communities of the towns, counties, states, and the nation in which we live.

    We have a voice in all these communities. Except the Catholic Church. And we are becoming more and more aware of how out of touch you are. You can participate in how we solve big problems like sex abuse of women and children – or you can just stay in your own separate world and drift further away from understanding life lived in the world of today and then tomorrow.

  • Francis’ native language is Spanish. He was speaking in Italian. BBC today had a correspondent in Rome walk through what he said in Italian, what he found out he said in Italian later, and the corrections issued as a result.

    He really ought to stop doing these off-the-cuff comments only to have to walk them back later.

    IMHO “You can’t solve this, Papa, without some change in the status of women within the Church.” is blatant hogwash.

    If the Pope said it was sunny today, you’d walk through this same litany of half century old material which an increasingly superannuated and simultaneously diminishing minority still cling to as though it had any chance of happening.

  • There are a lot of diss around even in church just like the world. The fiery darts are from their flesh. I know the true followers will be saved but they miss out the abundant life. I would no longer worry about them.

    Peter (typical church leader type in gospel time – self conceited, I, me, mine,….) looked back at John and asked Jesus what is going to happen to John (the disciple who know Jesus love him). Jesus answered “What is that to you? You just follow me”.

    I used to think and admire Peter. Now I only look to Jesus because He is the source of every good thing. John followed Jesus without prompting. He lived to ripe old age. He got to write the book of Revelation after all others slept.

  • So the cesspool gets more bilge. I would like to hear from the nuns, especially from any mother superiors, how any priest was allowed in after the knowledge of it happening. This is where the vow of obedience is nullified and the doors and windows should have been locked. Then a full on rebuke to the local Bishop/Cardinal. I am not blaming the nuns, but this is where women should have showed them how strong and self determining they were and kicked them to the curb. If they were afraid of not receiving the sacraments, I really don’t think God/Jesus would blame them for not receiving.

    Now lets see, they sexually abused children, handicapped/disabled children, women, now nuns. Then there is the physical abuse committed by priests and nuns to children, handicapped/disabled, women, infants. What new segment of innocents have they defiled that will come out next? Have they sacrificed kittens and puppies to satan? Or, is sexual abuse of animals next. There really isn’t much left that they could have done,did, do that I am sure has not happened. If this isn’t a precursor to the Second coming, then I shutter to think how low they can go.

  • I thought after you mentioned Mary Magdalene that you might have something else to say about her. Personally, I have always thought it regrettable that she was important enough to be at the foot of the cross, to be the first to whom Jesus reappeared, to be casually mentioned in all four Gospels, but not important enough in the minds of Gospel writers for them to tell us more about her. Women should have had benefit in Christianity of two venerated people named Mary, one mother and one friend and helper. We should have had with Jesus and this other Mary a description of the ideal male/female relationship between men and women who are not romantic or married. An important ball was just dropped.

    As for Revelation, its authorship is a matter of dispute among scholars with some maintaining that John, the disciple, probably could not have lived long enough to be the author when Revelation is believed to have been written. I’m with those who believe Revelation should not be in the Bible at all, but that is unrelated to Mary Magdalene.

  • The ones at the cross have been loved much: The disciple that Jesus loves, the mother that knows her Savior well, the MM whose life was turned from seven devils to our LORD who created the heavens and earth yet still with obedience to the cross as the perfect lamb of Elohim.

    As to the book of Revelation, it is self evident LORD Jesus dictated to the beloved disciple John. And since the church will rapture in the early chapters, the rest was really written for the twelve tribes and the world to be shocked and awed. That is why it has twenty two chapters, full of old testament images and visual aids.

  • I guess you don’t share with me much interest in Mary Magdalene. I don’t share any interest at all in Revelation, since I have never found that it bears any resemblance to who Jesus actually was or what he was about.

  • Your thoughtful observance is the truth.

    Here is what John saw the King in the Revelation:

    “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb who appeared to have been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.” (Revelation 5)

    So as the lamb He was in the Gospels foreshadowed by all these blood sacrifices of lambs, ….. is the Lion King in Revelation. Thank you Jesus. What joy!

    “And I heard every creature in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever!”

  • It’s always astonishing to me that a verse like your final quote above does not just strike EVERYONE as having been written by a person who was either crazy or lying. I’m a guy who is for the real Jesus, to soften the hearts of real men and women. Non-human “creatures” are not “saying” anything, never did, never will. The Revelation author is basically ruining the gospel with horsehockey.

  • Interesting…..

    Priests are abusing women— NUNS!!!— and the response is to shut down the nuns!!!!!!!

    Now what does that remind me of? Oh yes. .the woman gave me of the fruit of the tree, and I did eat.”

  • Connelly/Arnzen calls the priest/bishop rape of nuns and children nothing more than a “sin”.

    It’s a felony crime, as is the obstruction of justice by the bishops – and the entire hierarchy of the RCC.

    These crimes were more than well known by JP2. But the RCC is totally-criminally corrupt from top to bottom – they made one of the worst criminals of the 20th century a SAINT.

    Who is anti-catholic ?

    The priests who rape Catholic nuns and force them to have abortions, and the rest of this criminal organization who has known about and condoned this practice for centuries.

    They – the RCC hierarchy and clergy are anti-Catholic – and have proven themselves for over 1500 yrs to be anti-humanity as well.

    They commit heinous crimes on their own.

    They cast abortion as the worst sin against God – but they force it upon their own to cover-up their own crimes.

    Next time you go to confession – pause for a moment – to comtemplate the priest listening to your confession is more than likely watching hard-core-kiddy-porn and masturbating.

    And don’t forget the prerequisite prelude : ” Bless me father, I have sinned….”

    ” NUNS BEING FORCED TO ABORT THE PRIESTS’ CHILDREN OR BEAR THE CHILDREN THAT THE PRIESTS REFUSE TO RECOGNIZE.”

    https://religionnews.com/2019/02/05/pope-publicly-acknowledges-clergy-sexual-abuse-of-nuns/

    “….a case in Malawi where priests impregnated nearly 30 sisters in one congregation. When they complained to the archbishop, she wrote, they were replaced. ”

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/05/world/europe/pope-nuns-sexual-abuse.html?action=click&module=Top+Stories&pgtype=Homepage&fbclid=IwAR0KTOc4357k-ZdYRYHpnVYhXqNvtkPjLaCNzwsW92vkv0VGu16BzRUmW7I

    ” Pope Francis’s public admission that priests have used nuns as “sexual slaves

    https://www.nation.co.ke/news/world/Pope-says-priests-kept-nuns-as-sex-slaves/1068-4969764-yoy24xz/index.html

  • “I’m a guy who is for the real Jesus, to soften the hearts of real men and women.”

    In other words, you’re the guy to whom Jesus Christ and Santa Claus are interchangeable.

  • The BBC on the air corrected the text that this article relied on.

    The Pontiff speaks Spanish. When talking off the cuff in Italian he often makes errors, and this was one of those situations.

    The correction made clear that the abuse was one of authority, which is why the order was dissolved.

  • patrick, here is some more material for you:

    https://www.chick.com/products/category?type=tracts#&&Language=English&Status=Stock&SortBy=A-Z&PageNumber=1&Category=Catholicism&ShowCount=12

    Just as in your own family there are a few bad eggs.

    Jesus selected twelve, and one was overtaken by Satan.

    If you put a fraction of the time in doing good that you spend concocting venom, you’d make the world better.

    As it is you just make it clear that you’re consumed with hatred.

  • That’s true. Most of us don’t, but that group of us is under the obligation to talk the rest of our gender into not behaving like my (real, out back) billy goat , and we aren’t ever very good at it.

  • One more time for the Sisters’ benefit: For the few who are left: RUN and never look back!!!!

  • Just don’t miss out on the biblical Rapture, (1 Thess. 4:16-17), or you’ll get to personally re-examine and re-evaluate your final sentence there.

  • There are a few ” bad apples ” in each family. ( Connelly/Arnzen)

    The Synod of Elvira early in the 4th century tried to reign-in the clericalism and exercise of power by the priests and bishops – as expressed by the rampant sexual exploitation of their so called ” flock “.

    Canon 2

    ” Flamens (priests) who after the faith of baptism and regeneration shall have sacrificed, because they will have doubled their guilt if murder be added, and have tripled their sin if sexual immorality be involved, shall not receive communion even at death. ”

    The Synod of Elvira and Christian Life in the Fourth Century (Macmillan, 1882)


    The state of morals is mirrored in the canons denouncing prevalent vices. The canons respecting the clergy exhibit the clergy as already a special class with peculiar privileges, a more exacting moral standard, heavier penalties for delinquency. “

    1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Elvira, Synod of

    A worldwide institution seeking to expand it’s power for 1500 yrs by turning it’s blind, brainwashed, intimidated followers into slaves – can only be described as criminal.

    There was/is a worldwide conspiracy to obstruct justice by the hierarchy of the RCC – continuing for 1500 yrs.

    That’s not just a few ” bad apples “.

    Lock all the bastards up.

    There are any number of Christ like, and Christ centered Christian churches faithfully following the teaching of Christ. They aren’t in the news media with another sexual scandal day after day with an ever increasing expose of their criminal activities.

    The Roman Catholic Church is, as Pastor John Hagee described it for decades : ” The Great Whore of Babylon “

  • “The Roman Catholic Church is, as Pastor John Hagee described it for decades : ‘The Great Whore of Babylon'”.

    For those unfamiliar with Hagee

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hagee

    who arose from an area and background where the KKK (Kikes, Katholics, Koloreds) was looked upon with favor, Pastor Agee amended his childhood beliefs on Jews, and over ten years ago did the same with Katholics:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/13/AR2008051302865_pf.html?noredirect=on

    So, what we learn from this that – as was obvious – patrick is a rabid anti-Catholic AND he doesn’t stay current with much since he already knows who he hates.

  • I recall a former pastor telling us that if we ever saw an Opus Dei cleric walking toward us, we should turn and run away as fast as we can — and never look back!!!

  • “There is so much joy in the Church.”

    I don’t have ready numbers, but the exodus suggests otherwise.

  • One gun manufacturer makes a 25 cal. pistol small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. Might come in handy the next time a male superior tries something on a religious sister. “The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. ‘The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor…. the one is intended, the other is not’ (CCC-2263, quoting in part Thomas Aquinas).

  • My impression from past news reports is that women religious who were victimized by male clerics (including — allegedly — at least one Indian bishop) live in societies characterized by patriarchy and paternalism, just the kind of behavior foisted on the laity for centuries by Vatican hierarchs and their local episcopal lackeys.

    The Institution is toxic to the teaching of Jesus.

  • While I’ve no use for Hagee, the Church of Rome has certainly provided plenty of ammunition to him. “We have met the enemy, and [it] is us” (h/t Pogo). The Vatican’s problem is not just cultural: It is doctrinal and based on fiction.

  • “Just as in your own family there are a few bad eggs.”

    Only from Mr. “Connelly”, the self-appointed guardian of Holy Mudda’ Choich and all that is “orthodox”.

    May God help him/her. (God’s tryin’ but apparently not yet gettin through.)

  • “This is rather wimpy, isn’t it?”

    You betcha!

    “Time to start listening to the laity.”

    THAT’ll be the day :o(

    Thank you, as always, for tellin’ it like it is.

  • Revelation is metaphor, but I find it hard to think it was understandable to the average stable hand back in the day. Even today, people don’t necessarily understand it. I tend to ignore it. I prefer to focus on the Gospel.

  • “In other words, you’re the guy to whom Jesus Christ and Santa Claus are interchangeable.”

    Still more horse-puckey from “Connelly”.

  • Me too. What we are finding, though, is that our conservative religionists in politics do not ignore it. They are prepping for the end times to unfold any minute, meaning (to them) that nothing progressive is needed for America. Why bother? It’s all ending soon, according to them.

  • Thanks for your perspective. It sure makes sense to me. I would add that a focus on the “end times” is rooted in FEAR, not in God’s unconditional love. Sad.

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