A Vatican spokesman has admitted that there is a serious problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests within the Church.
It follows reports on the subject coming from both the US and Italy. Both the National Catholic Reporter in the US and Rome Daily in Italy have highlighted the issue, saying that ‘sexual abuse of nuns by priests, including rape, is a serious problem’.
The reports say that the problem is particularly serious in Africa and other parts of the developing world. However, 23 countries were included in the reports, including Ireland, Italy and the US.
Irish nun Sister Maura O’Donohue has worked as AIDS co-ordinator for the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development in London.
She says that in parts of Africa that have big problems with AIDs, nuns are more vulnerable to sexual abuse as they are seen as ‘safe targets’.
The reports say that many developing countries have cultures that see women conditioned to being subservient to men.
In some cases Catholic priests have exploited their financial and spiritual authority to gain sexual favours from religious women. In some cases, priests have encouraged nuns to go on the pill and to have an abortion if they become pregnant.
Sister O’Donohue‘s report includes a quote from a vicar general in one African diocese. The vicar said: “Celibacy in the African context means a priest does not get married but does not mean he does not have children.”
One of the key factors in the rise of sexual abuse of nuns that is given in the report is ‘a poor understanding of consecrated life, both by the sisters and also by bishops, priests and lay people’.
Vatican senior spokesman, Dr Joaquin Navarro-Valls said: “The problem is known. It is restricted to a specific geographic area. The Holy See is dealing with the matter in collaboration with the bishops, the Union of Superiors General (male orders) and the International Union of Superiors General (female orders).
“The problem is being approached both from the educational viewpoint and from that of individual cases. Some negative incidents, however, should not detract from the often heroic loyalty of the vast majority of priests and nuns.”