ROME: Pope Francis on Saturday drew attention to a problem that the Vatican has long sought to minimize: the abuse of power by superior mothers against nuns who, because of their vows of obedience, have failed no other recourse than to obey.
In an audience with members of the Vatican Congregation for Religious Orders, Francis cited a new investigative statement on the issue written by Holy See media reporter Salvatore Cernuzio.
François noted that the book “Veil of silence: abuse, violence, frustrations in female religious life” does not detail the “striking” cases of violence and abuse “but rather the daily abuses that harm the strength of the vocation. “.
The book, published in Italy last month, contains 11 cases of current and former nuns who have suffered abuse at the hands of their superiors. Most were psychological and spiritual abuse and often resulted in women leaving or being kicked out of their communities and questioning their faith in God and the church.
Some found themselves on the streets, others found refuge in a home for abused women. The book follows an article on the same subject by the Jesuit journal approved by the Vatican La Civilta Cattolica in 2020 and earlier reports in the Vatican women’s magazine on the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and their exploitation by the hierarchy of the male church for free domestic work. .
The new book peels off another layer of the more insidious forms of psychological abuse committed by superiors against their own nuns, which have long been shrouded in secrecy.
It contains a devastating essay by one of the Vatican’s most senior women, Sister Natalie Becquart, who said the cases must force the church to examine the sometimes toxic reality of life in religious orders, to care for the victims. and prevent future abuse. to occur.
She said it also reinforces the need for the Catholic hierarchy to ensure that priests and nuns are trained in the right way to exercise obedience and authority, claiming that the misapplication of both has led to the problem.
Francis attempted to suppress the near absolute power enjoyed by religious and lay superiors as well as the proliferation of new religious movements, some of which saw horrific cases of sexual, spiritual and other abuse committed by their charismatic founders.
The Vatican recently imposed term limits on leaders and has a more rigorous process for new groups to be approved in the church.
The Jesuit Pope, who is familiar with the dynamics of community religious life, told members of the Vatican congregation on Saturday that there is always the threat that founders of religious orders or new religious movements will assume too much power and the exercise inappropriately.
The risk, he warned, is that they claim to be the only ones who can interpret the particular spirit of the movement “as if they are above the church.”