New Book Lifts Veil on Nun Abuse in Catholic Convents
A recent book, “The Veil of Silence: Abuses, Violence and Frustrations in Female Religious Life,” written by Vatican News journalist Salvatore Cernuzio, catalogs the mental and physical abuse, oppression and racism suffered by religious sisters.
Cernuzio tells the story of 11 nuns from different backgrounds who experienced forms of abuse — verbal, physical and sexual — while in a religious congregation. The stories differ in terms of who perpetrated the abuse, the reactions of the victims and the cultural context. However, the stories share a common approach from the church hierarchy.
“They chose to ‘protect’ the good name of the institution by sacrificing the victim,” Cernuzio writes in the introduction to his book. “The abused nun is transferred, accused of seducing the priest, and the priest stays at his place, continuing his predatory activity undisturbed.”
Marcela, a South American woman who joined an order of cloistered nuns in Italy when she was 19, recounts how the indoctrination was so strict that younger sisters needed permission to go to the bathroom and ask for sanitary products during their menstrual periods.
"You are always complaining! Do you want to be a saint or not?" Marcela, who later left the convent, quotes the Mother Superior as shouting when she suggested changes in the daily routine.
Therese, a French woman, was told "you have to suffer for Jesus" when she asked to be spared physically demanding chores because of a back condition.
"I understood that we were all like dogs," recounted Elizabeth. "They tell us to sit and we sit, to get up and we get up, to roll over and we roll over."
Pope Acknowledges Epidemic of Abuse
In 2019, on his flight back from an apostolic visit to the Middle East, Pope Francis acknowledged the reality of abuse experienced by many religious sisters, which he described as an “ongoing problem” and a “scandal.” He told reporters that some clergymen had already been suspended as a result and that the church was “working on it.”
That same year, Pope Francis issued a decree known as a motu proprio, called “Vos Estis Lux Mundi,” meaning “You are the light of the world.” The document introduced new procedures to combat sexual abuse, making it mandatory for priests and nuns to report cases of abuse to the competent authorities.
Nun Alleges Sexual Abuse by Priest
Another nun in Cernuzio's book, Sister Aleksandra, claimed she was sexually abused by a priest with whom she collaborated for a project to support young women wishing to become nuns. When she reported the abuse to her superior general, she was told there had been previous reports and that “obviously, if it happened, it’s because us nuns provoked the priests.”
Vatican Investigates Abuse in Religious Congregations
Nearly 4% of religious Catholic congregations have been put under investigation by the Vatican due to abuse allegations, according to Cernuzio, which he believes is “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Numerous cases of abuse of nuns have been reported all over the world. In 2018, a bishop in India was arrested for allegedly abusing a nun 13 times over 2 years.
In July 2020, the Jesuit magazine “Civiltà Cattolica” published a report on the sexual abuse of nuns. A 2018 investigative report by the Associated Press found that the abuse of nuns “is global and pervasive, thanks to the universal tradition of sisters’ second-class status in the Catholic Church and their ingrained subservience to the men who run it.”
Religious orders are at their worst “when they are interpreted and enacted in such a way to infantilize, oppress or even manipulate and destroy people,” wrote Sr. Nathalie Becquart, the undersecretary of the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops, in the preface to the book.
How to Define Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse refers to sexual impropriety that includes rape and sexual assault, and typically occurs between an adult and a child. Catholic Church sexual abuse is a horrific crime that steals the innocence of children and young people, and often leaves deep-seated wounds that victims suffer from for many years after the fact.
Many victims of sexual abuse are forced to remain quiet and suffer in silence because they are ashamed to tell their stories as well as afraid that no one will believe them. Priests and members of the clergy are trusted figures of authority within the Catholic Church.
One of the more disturbing aspects about child sex abuse in the Catholic Church is its practice of transferring pedophile priests to different parishes in different states or even different countries. There is usually a paper trail of allegations that the church tries to keep secret.
Almost all cases of Catholic child sexual abuse would not exist without a church hierarchy that protects and harbors its pedophile priests. Some priests are active pedophiles who move from parish to parish, winning the trust of their new congregations while continuing to pursue and abuse their children.
Part of the battle against child sexual abuse is taking individual pedophiles to court and making sure they are punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, as recent well-publicized cases against the Catholic Church have shown, the battle must also be waged against institutions that cover up incidents of molestation and thus protect abusers.
Related sexual abuse lawsuits:
- Nationwide Lutheran Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
- Catholic Priest Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
- Nationwide Episcopalian Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
- Jehovah’s Witnesses Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
Grand Jury Report Finds 1,000+ Cases of Catholic Priest Abuse in PA, Widespread Cover-Up Among Diocese
Catholic Priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused more than 1,000 children over a period of 7 decades, with bishops and other clergy members covering up the abuse and exacerbating the problem, a new grand jury report has found. The jury described the church’s method of dealing with complaints of abuse as “a playbook for concealing the truth,” after FBI agents found a specific protocol in diocese files.
See more: Pennsylvania Catholic Church Sex Abuse Grand Jury Report (PDF)
Are You a Nun Who Was Abused by the Catholic Church?
If you are a current or former nun who is a survivor of Catholic Church abuse, you are not alone. Many survivors of abuse struggle to share their stories.
They did not have a voice in the church, and many may not know how to talk about their experiences as adults. Still, that abuse from long ago resonates in their everyday lives. Many survivors of Catholic Church abuse experience PTSD, depression, drug addiction, and other devastating conditions that haunt them for years.
Child Victims Act
It is important to know that even if you could not speak out at the time, you can speak out now. Several U.S. states have passed the Child Victims Act, which allows survivors to demand justice even if the abuse occurred many years or even decades earlier. If you suffered childhood sexual abuse at the hands of someone you trusted, such as a priest, clergy member, Mother Superior, or other trusted adult, you may be entitled to compensation through the Child Victims Act.
Related Article: Difference Between Violence and Abuse
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Again, If you or a loved one is a current or former nun who was abused by a member of the Catholic Church, you should contact the law firm of Schmidt & Clark, LLP, immediately. You may be entitled to a settlement and a lawyer can help.