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Nuns are coming forward to accuse priests and bishops of sexual assault

A nun in a crowd at the Vatican during Christmas.
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

Nuns are forcing the Catholic Church to face another kind of sexual scandal among its clergy: the abuse of "religious sisters by priests and bishops," the Associated Press reports.

The big picture: The Church has a rocky history of abuse of young children, but the abuse of sisters is a matter the community has "yet to come to terms with." And in the era of #MeToo, no stone is being left unturned.

What's happening

This isn't a new problem. However, sisters are now going public with their stories around the world, the AP reports.

  • The Vatican received a report on these issues in Africa in the 1990s, but no serious action was taken.

Nuns used to be considered "safe" sexual partners, per the AP, for men in the Church who were concerned about contracting a sexually transmitted disease if he went to women "in the general population."

A leading expert on clergy sexual abuse, Karlijn Demasure, told the AP, priests "can always say 'she wanted it.' It is also difficult to get rid of the opinion that it is always the woman who seduces the man, and not vice versa."

  • The power structure in the Church can foster an atmosphere of dependence. A 2000 report on Vatican officials said that when women travel to Rome for studies, they often "turn to seminarians and priests for help... Sexual favors are sometimes the payment they have to make."

What they're saying (and doing)

  • A group of nuns from a congregation in Chile went public with their stories this week, the AP reports.
  • One sister in India did something largely unthinkable: she filed a police report accusing a bishop of rape.
  • One woman who worked in Kenya in the 1990s, Sister Paola Moggi, told the AP: "I have found in Africa sisters who are absolutely emancipated and who say what they think to a priest...I have also found sisters who said ‘Well, you have to understand their needs, and that while we only have a monthly cycle a man has a continuous cycle of sperm’ — verbatim words from the ’90s."
Quote"I am so sad that it took so long for this to come into the open, because there were reports long ago. I hope that now actions will be taken to take care of the victims and put an end to this kind of abuse."
— Demasure, to the AP