Vatican Says It Knows Nuns Are Abused

National Catholic Reporter, March 30, 2001 | Go to article overview

Vatican Says It Knows Nuns Are Abused


In a highly unusual public statement, the Vatican has acknowledged the problem of sexual abuse of women religious by priests. The Vatican's declaration on the matter was released March 20 by papal spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

The problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests, particularly in AIDS-plagued Africa, has been known to the Vatican for at least five years and was made public through an extensive article in the March 16 issue of NCR.

The Vatican statement reads:

"The problem is known, and is restricted to a geographically limited area.

"The Holy See is dealing with the question in collaboration with the bishops, with the Union of Superiors General and with the International Union of Superiors General.

"The work has two sides, the formation of persons and the solution of single cases.

"Certain negative situations cannot cause to be forgotten the frequently heroic fidelity of the great majority of male religious, female religious and priests."

The Vatican statement was apparently triggered by an article on NCR's March 16 report in the Italian daily La Repubblica. The article, by Marco Politi, the newspaper's leading Vaticanologist, summarized the NCR story and provided Italian translations of some of the documents prepared by the Adista news agency.

The statement, released in Italian, did not specify what geographic area is involved or what was being done to deal with the problem.

A Vatican press office official told NCR March 21 that Navarro-Valls was unavailable for further comment.

The Union of Superiors General and the International Union of Superiors General are umbrella groups for leaders of men's and women's religious communities, respectively. Both groups are based in Rome.

In a joint statement March 21, the groups underscored their awareness of the problem and said they were taking steps to address it.

Sr. Rita Burley, president of the International Union of Superiors General and superior general of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, said the steps included tougher standards for admission into religious life, a focus on human development in formation, and resolution of specific cases of abuse.

The dimensions and geographical extent of the sexual abuse are still largely unknown, the groups said, and are complicated by sometimes overlapping issues of cultural practice and simple failure to live celibacy vows.

The NCR story was based on five reports on the sexual abuse of women religious by priests written by a priest and three members of women's congregations. …

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