The former director of the Vatican magazine Donne Chiesa Mondo (“Women Church World”) has doubled down on her claims nuns are being enslaved and sexually abused by priests “all over the world”.

Driving the news

“Domestic slavery and the sexual abuse of religious is a widespread practice within the Catholic church, all over the world”, Lucetta Scaraffia told Colombian newspaper El Espectador in an interview in Rome.

The Italian journalist, historian and self-described feminist was reflecting on the fallout from the February edition of Donne Chiesa Mondo, a monthly supplement to Vatican paper L’Osservatore Romano, that lifted the lid for the first time on the clerical abuse of nuns.

The exposé forced Pope Francis to acknowledge that women are treated as “second-class” members of the Church, and that “the mistreatment of women is a problem” in Catholicism.

But Scaraffia faced pressures over the Donne Chiesa Mondo scoop, and ended up leaving the magazine in March.

In a strong resignation letter, she denounced a December 2018 leadership change in L’Osservatore Romano had brought the women’s supplement “under direct male control”.

The big picture

“Many women began to write to us lamenting the domestic service to which they were subjected”, Scaraffia said of information her team received that led to the controversial Donne Chiesa Mondo articles.

“We realised that many dioceses and archdioceses had a ‘reserve’ of church women, laity and nuns, and in almost none of the cases were they paid for their services, or even ate at the same table [as priests and bishops]”.

Scaraffia said she and her sister Donne Chiesa Mondo journalists ended up receiving “hundreds” of letters from nuns around the world denouncing the “humiliations” they were suffering, which Scaraffia said even extended to blackmail during confession to force nuns to have sex with priests and bishops.

“It’s horrible”, Scaraffia lamented.

“We received letters where nuns and lay women told us how the male religious who raped them forced them to have abortions. For Catholics, abortion is a mortal sin, so this is a monstrous hypocrisy”.

“Almost all [the victims] told us how domestic slavery had eventually led to sexual abuse”, the former director of Donne Chiesa Mondo continued.

“When women choose religious life they do it out of a vocation, but to think that the vocation is to serve the men of the Church is a dangerous misunderstanding. It’s not fair. That’s a horrible case of oppression”.

Go deeper

Scaraffia added that despite all the cases of the clerical abuse of sisters documented by the magazine she used to lead, no priest or bishop has yet been punished by the Vatican for crimes of that type.

“In the Church no one is ever punished”, she lamented, adding that the Church’s Code of Canon Law says “nothing specific” about the labour and sexual exploitation of nuns.

“In canon law, adultery and masturbation are at the same level of, let’s say ‘sin’ because they violate the sixth commandment: you shall not commit impure acts”, Scaraffia explained.

“But, excuse me, masturbating alone doesn’t hurt anyone, but raping others, men or women, is much more serious.

“The Pope is the only one with authority within the Church to take action on the matter, to punish the perpetrators within his Church – but there is only one statement on his part”, Scaraffia lamented.

Why it matters

Asked for how she personally, as a Catholic, feels about the abused nuns’ claims, Scaraffia said her reaction was of bewilderment and sadness.

“But in the end we women should speak up; it’s essential for us to participate in the institution that has been built also with our work”, she said.

“The aspect of sexual violence seems particularly serious to me if there’s only more silence on our part.

“In his years as Pope, Francis has put one or two women into his conclave of bishops, but all are kept in silence”, Scaraffia continued.

“The state of affairs won’t change if we only change women’s ranks, because even if [the Pope] promotes a few women, they’ll be kept in a state of obedience. With zero awareness of the abuse or indifferent to it, which is worse”.

For the record

Although Scaraffia said that feminism is now, in a small way, beginning to make a home for itself in the Church, she warned that Church authorities still “don’t think of women as equals”.

She explained that that Church sexism was clearly on display at last month’s Amazon Synod in Rome, at which Vatican officials totally “ignored” a request from women religious that they be allowed to vote in proceedings.

Like other Catholic feminist voices, Scaraffia too is sceptical the Amazon Synod proposal to open official Church ministries to women will lead to real dignity and equality for them, while they continue to be kept in “conditions of obedience”.

“The Church sends a message of humility and obedience, but not to men, even though it’s always talking about them and for them”, Scaraffia lamented.

“It’s even humorous because women are the ones who live the supposed true Christian life, right? Love your neighbor, obey, take care of the Common Home.

“But the discourse of the Common Home is only for men. It talks about migrants and climate change, but the beings that gave birth to the world are not in the discourse because it’s also part of an institution that enslaves women”, Scaraffia deplored.

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