While traveling to the Holy See from the United Arab Emirates, Pope Francis spoke to the press about sexual abuse scandals concerning priests and bishops preying on nuns, the Associated Press reports. In recent months, many of these cases have been reported throughout the world, drawing condemnation from official Vatican institutions.
In November, the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) released a short but impactful statement condemning the “pattern of abuse that is prevalent within the church and society today.” The organization boasts 2,000 members, all female, and claims to represent the interests of over 500,000 female clerics worldwide.
“We stand by those courageous women and men who have reported abuse to the authorities. We condemn those who support the culture of silence and secrecy, often under the guise of “protection” of an institution’s reputation or naming it ‘part of one’s culture’. We advocate for transparent civil and criminal reporting of abuse whether within religious congregations, at the parish or diocesan levels, or in any public arena.”
The statement continued with a plea for victims of abuse to go to their superiors or the civil authorities, and also a commitment to “help the person to have the courage to bring the complaint to the appropriate organizations.”
According to Pope Francis, the Church has been working to fight against abusers for a long time, citing a case his predecessor handled in which a France-based order had turned their nuns into sex slaves. He acknowledged that more needed to be done, and vowed to do more, but when asked about implementing institutional norms to prevent abuse, he implied it’s still being handled on a case-by-case basis.
This is not the first sex abuse scandal the Church has dealt with, but it’s one that may necessitate heavier reforms than what the 2,000-year-old institution is used to. L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, released an editorial by Lucetta Scaraffia that frames the issue as one of institutional power imbalance, quoting Pope Francis himself acknowledging this fact.
“[Women] know they have the right to be respected, and know that the condition of women, in the Church too, must change. And they know that to bring about this transformation it is not enough to appoint a few women to serve on commissions.”
By design, the highest role a woman can achieve in the church is lower than that of the men. This, coupled with the “culture of silence and secrecy,” per the UISG, describes an institution that opens itself to see women as second class citizens and to treat anyone speaking up as a traitor.
The Pope’s open acknowledgment and vow to fight against this perverse culture is a step in the right direction but the question remains, is the Vatican willing to make the changes necessary to prevent this from happening in the first place?