Citing Expose, Pope Warns of Abuse of Nuns by Superiors

Francis has moved against unchecked power of church and lay superiors
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 11, 2021 3:55 PM CST
Pope Cites Lessons in Expose on Abuse of Nuns
Nuns wave as Pope Francis delivers his blessing from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in June 2020.   (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Pope Francis on Saturday drew attention to a problem that the Vatican has long sought to play down: the abuses of power by mother superiors against nuns who, because of their vows of obedience, have little recourse but to obey. During an audience with members of the Vatican's congregation for religious orders, Francis cited a new investigative expose of the problem written by a reporter for the Holy See's media, Salvatore Cernuzio, the AP reports. Francis noted that the book, Veil of Silence: Abuse, Violence, Frustrations in Female Religious Life, doesn't detail "striking" cases of violence and abuse "but rather the everyday abuses that harm the strength of the vocation."

The book, published in Italy last month, covers 11 cases of current or former religious sisters who suffered abuses at the hands of their superiors. Most were psychological and spiritual abuses and often resulted in the women leaving or being thrown out of their communities and questioning their faith in God and the church. Some ended up on the streets, others found refuge in a home for abused women. The book follows an article on the same topic by the Vatican-approved Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica in 2020 and earlier reports in the Vatican’s women's magazine about the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and exploitation of them by the male church hierarchy for free domestic labor.

The new book contains a devastating essay by one of the highest-ranking women at the Vatican, Sister Natalie Becquart, who said the church must look at the sometimes toxic reality of life in religious orders, tend to victims and prevent future abuses. Francis has tried to crack down on the power of religious and lay superiors as well as the proliferation of new religious movements, some of which have seen horrific abuses by their charismatic founders. The pope told members of the Vatican congregation Saturday that there is always the threat that founders of religious orders or movements will assume too much power and exercise it improperly. The risk, he warned, is that they claim to be the only ones who can interpret the particular spirit of the movement "as if they were above the church."

(Read more Pope Francis stories.)

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