The Catholic Church has been under significant scrutiny for its protection of serial sexual abusers for decades.
Now, perhaps prompted by social movements and revelations of the extent to which the Church has allowed abuse to occur, The International Union of Superiors General has spoken out against sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and its historical tradition of secrecy and silence. The organization, which includes half a million Sisters across the world, urged their own members to report sexual abuse and help victims to report abuse and seek justice. In the statement, UISG pledges to help any women religious who has suffered abuse to “be a listening presence” and do what they can to help the woman bring the complaint to appropriate organizations, including law enforcement agencies.
They issued the statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Sisters also subjected to sexual abuse and sexual assault
While much of the reporting in the U.S. has focused on clergy abuse of child congregants, earlier this year the Associated Press reported that Catholic clergy also has a history of committing sexual abuse against adult nuns. Sisters and nuns can have lesser status within the Church hierarchy than clergymen, leading some clergy to take advantage of their power. The AP documented cases from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. It is believed to be a worldwide problem within the Church.
According to reports, the Church has known about this issue since at least the 1990s, when nuns in Africa reported sexual abuse from clergy looking to avoid HIV.
Despite this welcome and encouraging statement from UISG, many barriers remain for women in the Church, many of whom are suffering in silence. There is still significant pressure from Church leaders to minimize abuse and silence abuse victims. As more women speak out about their experiences there is hope that more women will feel empowered to come forward about their abuse.