More and more cases of sexual misconduct by Catholic officials against nuns are coming to light. As voices for equality within the world’s largest religious organization are getting louder than ever, the Catholic Church is once again in controversy.
In early February, Pope Francis for the first time acknowledged the existence of sexual misconduct against nuns in the Church, mentioning that during an earlier case, some religious women in France had been reduced to “sexual slavery” at the hands of priests. The problem is not new. An extensive report from 1994, suppressed until 2001, revealed severe cases of abuse, mostly in Africa, including one that resulted in a fatal forced abortion.
The issue has several dimensions specific to the Global South, where more than half of the world’s Catholics live. The 1994 report highlighted a connection to the AIDS epidemic, as religious sisters were targeted due to being seen as less likely to carry the virus. Additionally, in several African and Latin American countries, high-ranking clergymen hold immense economic and political power. Today, from Chile to India, as well as Europe, multiple cases of sexual abuse are dividing Catholic communities. And for the first time after decades of cover-ups, the Church is showing willingness to investigate. Following an investigation prompted by the Chilean scandal, all 34 Chilean bishops offered their written resignations to Pope Francis, of which seven have been accepted so far.
In the age of #MeToo, the Church is facing serious pressure to properly address the issues of abuse. Supported by increasing media coverage, Catholic women are now speaking out against abuse under the #NunsToo movement. The organization Voices of Faith is another platform for involved women to unite and project their demands.
While titled “Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church”, a “historic” summit held in the Vatican in late February also touched upon issues of adult sexual abuse. Nonetheless, many are highly unsatisfied with the conference, considering the Pope’s commitments far too little. Since the meeting, the Vatican has passed a new, tougher law on sexual abuse – but only concerning minors. How much more the Church is able to achieve to regain the credibility of its hierarchy will be seen in the coming years.