Pope John Paul last week apologized to those who were victims of sexual abuse and rape committed by clergy members, including priests. The Pope specifically made reference to the sexual abuse of nuns in developing nations. The apology was one paragraph in a 120-page document posted on the Internet regarding a synod of bishops from Oceania held in 1998.
In March 2001, the National Catholic Reporter exposed the sexual abuse of nuns by clergy throughout the world, citing cases of abuse and rape in 22 countries and the United States. In at least one case, the sexual abuse led to death, as one nun, at the urging of the priest who raped her, died after a botched abortion. In response to the article, the Vatican formed a working group to study the problem. An American coalition of over 140 religious, human rights, and women’s rights organizations, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, immediately called for an independent fact-finding mission and launched demonstrations in New York and Washington, DC. The Call to Accountability Campaign, led by Catholics for a Free Choice, also highlighted the connection between sexual abuse and the spread of AIDS among nuns. According to reports, sexual abuse is particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where priests believe sexual intercourse with nuns is safer because nuns are presumed to be free of the HIV/AIDS virus. In one diocese alone, nine nuns who had been raped by clergy died of AIDS.