Galvanized by the #MeToo movement and the sex abuse crisis commanding the attention of the Vatican, women religious are now openly discussing a subject that was once taboo — sexual harassment, abuse and rape of sisters by clergy — in congregational motherhouses and national conference offices.
Slowly, an era is ending in which Catholic women religious were silent victims of sexual abuse by priests and bishops. Consider these developments in the past year:
- In Chile, the Vatican is investigating complaints by members of a congregation of sexual abuse by priests and mistreatment by their superiors.
- In India, Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar faces charges for raping a former superior of a congregation multiple times. He is the first bishop in India to be arrested for sexual abuse of a nun. He has denied the charges. More than 80 sisters were among 167 signers of a letter in July asking that he be relieved of his pastoral duties. Five sisters of the congregation and other supporters engaged in a highly unusual public demonstration supporting the former superior and protesting initial inaction by church and state authorities.
- Statements encouraging sisters to report abuse and congregational members and superiors to believe and support victims were issued by the International Union of Superiors General, the largest worldwide representation of Catholic women religious leadership; and by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the U.S.
- The Associated Press published a story in July about sex abuse of sisters, drawing upon an article by National Catholic Reporter in 2001. In January, it published a separate story focusing on India. Other media reports have surfaced about abuse in Myanmar.
In more than a dozen interviews for this article, some patterns across countries and continents emerged how to help prevent abuse and support victims if it does occur.