Catholic nuns lift the veil on abuse in convents



VATICAN CITY, Nov. 29 (Reuters) – When young nuns at an Eastern European convent told their mother superior that a priest tried to assault them, she replied that it was probably to their fault for having “provoked” him.

When African nuns in Minnesota asked why it was always they who had to shovel snow, they were told it was because they were young and strong, even though white sisters of the same age lived there as well.

As the Roman Catholic Church pays more attention to the closed world of convents, where women spend much of their time in prayer and housework, more and more episodes of psychological, emotional and physical abuse are revealed.

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A new book, “Veil of Silence” by Salvatore Cernuzio, journalist for the Vatican’s online site, Vatican News, is the latest presentation coming from within and approved by the authorities.

Cernuzio recounts the experiences of 11 women and their struggles with an age-old system where the Mother Superior and older sisters demand total obedience, in some cases resulting in acts of cruelty and humiliation.

Marcela, a South American woman who joined an order of cloistered nuns in Italy 20 years ago at the age of 19, talks about how the indoctrination was so strict that young sisters needed permission to go to the bathroom and ask for hygiene products during their period.

“You’re always complaining! Do you want to be a saint or not?” Marcela, who later left the convent, quotes the Mother Superior as screaming when she suggested changes in the daily routine.

Thérèse, a French woman, was told “we must suffer for Jesus” when she asked to be spared physically demanding chores because of a back pain.

“I understood that we were all like dogs,” said Elizabeth, an Australian. “They tell us to sit down and we sit down, to get up and we get up, to turn around and we turn around.”


Last year, Father Giovanni Cucci wrote a historical article on the abuses in convents in the Jesuit review Civilta Cattolica, the texts of which are approved by the Vatican.

He discovered that most were abuses of power, including episodes of racism like in the Convent in Minnesota. Cucci said the issue needed more attention as it had been overshadowed by the sexual abuse of children by priests.

In 2018, the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano exposed the plight of foreign nuns sent by their orders to work as governesses for cardinals and bishops in Rome with little or no pay.

He then chronicled a “burnout” syndrome, where younger women with a good education were held back by older superiors reluctant to abandon a boot camp style tradition of assigning them menial tasks. , apparently to instill discipline and obedience.

“Anything that has worked in a context of pyramidal and authoritarian relationships is no longer desirable or liveable,” wrote Sister Nathalie Becquart, French member of the Missionary Sisters Xaviere and one of the most senior women in the Vatican.

Becquart wrote in the preface to the book of the “cries and sufferings” of women who entered convents because they felt a call from God but who left later because their complaints too often fell on someone’s ear. deaf.

Some were stigmatized as “traitors” by their orders and found it very difficult to find employment in the outside world.

Last year, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, who heads the Vatican department that oversees religious congregations, revealed that Pope Francis had opened a home in Rome for former nuns abandoned by their orders.

The cardinal, who has launched investigations into a number of convents, told the Vatican newspaper he was shocked to discover that there were a few instances where former nuns had to resort to prostitution for a living.

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Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alex Richardson

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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