International News

Report: Priests, Missionaries Sexually Abuse Nuns
by Steve Pagani, Reuters - March 20, 2001
Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2001 06:02 pm CST

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican acknowledged Tuesday a damning report that some priests and missionaries were forcing nuns to have sex with them, and were in some cases committing rape and forcing the victims to have abortions.

Some nuns were forced to take the contraceptive pill, the report cited in the Rome daily la Repubblica said.

The Vatican said the issue was restricted to a certain geographical area, but the report cited cases in 23 countries, including the United States, Brazil, the Philippines, India, Ireland and Italy.

``The stories are horrifying and disturbing to say the least,'' said Bill Ryan, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

However he added that he was not aware of anything similar in the United States.

``The National Catholic Reporter... offered no documentation for that. I don't know how you would investigate something like that unless you had specifics or a charge,'' he added.

The charges first appeared in the Kansas City-based National Catholic Reporter weekly on March 16 and in a small Italian religious news agency Adista, which also publishes a weekly.

Limit Of Human Endurance

Missionary news agency MISNA condemned the abuse while recalling that missionaries often worked ``at the limit of human endurance.'' It urged the media to remember the good deeds of missionaries around the world as well as their failings.

A Vatican statement said ``in relation to the news of cases of sexual abuse against nuns committed by priests and missionaries, Chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls had the following announcement:

``The problem is known about and is restricted to a certain geographical area.

``The Holy See is dealing with the issue in collaboration with bishops, the Union of Superiors General (grouping of heads of male religious orders) and the International Union of Superiors General (heads of female religious orders).''

While the Vatican did not name the geographical area, the report said most incidents of sexual abuse against nuns occurred in Africa where the nuns were identified as ``safe'' following the onset of the HIV and AIDS viruses devastating the continent.

Nuns Forced To Abort

Charges made in the report, signed with names and surnames, were made known to Church authorities on several occasions throughout the 1990s, the article by la Repubblica's respected Vatican correspondent Marco Politi said.

The author of the report was nun and physician Maura O'Donohue, who presented it to the head of the Vatican's Congregation for Holy Orders, Cardinal Martinez Somalo, in February 1995.

He ordered a working group from the Congregation to study the problem with O'Donohue, who was AIDS coordinator for Cafod, the London-based Roman Catholic Fund for Overseas Development.

O'Donohue made specific reference to certain cases, one in which a priest forced a nun to have an abortion, after which she died. He then officiated at her requiem mass.

In reference to Africa, her report said: ``It is impossible (there) for a woman or an adolescent to refuse a man, especially an older man and in particular a priest.''

In Africa, certain priests sought out nuns ``for fear of contracting AIDS with prostitutes.''

``There are cases in which priests make nuns take the pill, ... and there was one case of 20 nuns in one religious community being pregnant at the same time,'' the article cited the report as saying.

A mother superior was continually ignored by the local bishop when she complained that priests in the diocese had made 29 of her nuns pregnant. The bishop relieved her of her duties, the report said without identifying the diocese.

Sexual Favors

In 1998, Marie McDonald, mother superior of the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa, presented her report on ''sexual abuse and rape committed by priests and bishops.''

The Vatican is monitoring the situation, making sure bishops were aware of the phenomenon, but no direct action has been taken, the article said.

Vatican spokesman Navarro-Valls said in his statement: ``We are working on two fronts, training of people and finding a solution to individual cases.

``Some negative cases cannot let us forget the often heroic faith expressed by the large majority of those men and women in religious orders and of the clergy.''

MISNA echoed his words, saying: ``If on the one hand... these incidents of alleged sexual abuse cannot and should not be denied or justified, on the other hand they prompt us to reflect on the conditions in which the majority of the tens of thousands of missionaries live on the fringes of the so-called Third World.

``Many of them live in situations of extreme psychological and physical hardship, at the limits of human endurance.''

La Repubblica quoted McDonald as she knew of no inspections taking place after her report.

``Then there is the conspiracy of silence which makes the problem worse. Only if we confront this together, will we be able to find a solution,'' she said.

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