A Vatican journalist turned critic of the institution has warned that a #NunsToo “revolt” is brewing among the world’s female religious, recalling that women themselves “are a revolution”.
– Nuns “are furious” about their treatment at the hands of the clergy
Lucetta Scaraffia founded and directed Donne Chiesa Mondo (“Women Church World”) – the ‘women’s supplement’ of official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano – from 2012 until she and her team were forced out in 2019.
That ouster was due, Scaraffia and her colleagues said at the time, to the “climate of distrust and progressive de-legitimisation” they suffered at the hands of L’Osservatore Romano editors and Vatican authorities after Donne Chiesa Mondo published a series of reports on the sexual abuse and abuses of power nuns are subjected to by priests and bishops.
Scaraffia returned to analyse that scourge in comments August 5 to the Religion News Service, in which she alerted that many nuns “are furious” about their treatment at the hands of the clergy, and that consequently “I think there is a possibility of a revolt of religious sisters”.
The immediate motive for Scaraffia’s warning was a July 30 article in semi-official Vatican journal La Civiltà Cattolica – written by Jesuit Father Giovanni Cucci – that lifted the lid on what the publication said was an “issue that has not received sufficient attention so far”: the sexual abuse and abuses of power and conscience within women’s orders.
Among other problems, the Civiltà Cattolica report denounced the “forms of blackmail and power without limits” to which some mothers superior subject younger nuns as well as the sexual abuse some female religious suffer at the hands of their formators, but it also said the different forms of exploitation “may seem… difficult to believe for those who live in male congregations, and in the face of which one can limit oneself to smiling”.
Although La Civiltà Cattolica was careful to insist that denouncing abuse in women’s orders “certainly does not mean reducing the reality of women’s religious life to this” – or denying “the role and importance of the work carried out by so many women religious in the service of the least” – it also said bringing the abuse to light “is a matter of giving a voice to those who have no voice”.
For Scaraffia, that suggestion that female religious are incapable of speaking for themselves was too much, as was the whole Civiltà Cattolica operation to entrust to a man the analysis of problems in women’s congregations.
The Civiltà Cattolica article is “a way to tell sisters that if they have press conferences, make their voices heard and denounce sexual abuse, (Church authorities) will air all their dirty laundry”, Scaraffia lamented to RNS.
“Nuns are emerging and speaking up as protagonists, but the Church continues to ignore their existence”, she added, insisting that “I love the church and I fight for the Church” but on the issue of women’s marginalisation, the institution is facing the prospect of “a great rebellion” on the part of nuns.
– “Are we really sure that favoritism, abuses of power [and] humiliation only occur in women’s institutions?”
Scaraffia’s comments to RNS August 5 were a reaffirmation of sentiments she expressed August 1 in an article in the Quotidiano Nazionale newspaper, in which she decried the fact that La Civiltà Cattolica had dedicated a report to nuns “but not to thank them for the mountain of work they do in silence and humility [and] not to congratulate them on the evangelical creativity they demonstrate in the missions or for their extraordinary work to combat human trafficking”.
Moreover, on the abuse women religious suffer Scaraffia accused bishops in which abusive congregations operate of having known and permitted the “horrors” described in the Civiltà Cattolica article if those bishops “supported and approved” the work of those congregations.
“Are we really sure that favoritism, abuses of power [and] humiliation only occur in women’s institutions?”, Scaraffia further ironised.
The founder and former director of Donne Chiesa Mondo also repeated her complaint that La Civiltà Cattolica‘s “undeserved and ungenerous attack” on female religious life could be a response to “the fact that religious women are becoming capable of making their voices heard publicly… and above all of denouncing the very numerous sexual abuses that nuns are forced to suffer at the hands of priests and religious, confident of their power over them and of the widespread impunity they have enjoyed so far”.
Whether La Civiltà Cattolica, and through it the Vatican, was warning women religious with the article on abuse in women’s orders “is a legitimate question to ask, because it hides a terrible and dangerous drama for the whole Church: the scandal of abortion imposed on abused religious and paid for by the dioceses”, Scaraffia concluded.
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