The scandal surrounding priests, rape, and AIDS, according to news accounts, includes abuses of power and financial explotation. Taking advantage of nuns’ relatively poor education, some priests, especially in developing nations, are exploiting their power both as men and as spiritual leaders to force nuns into sexual servitude, exchanging sexual acts for financial security, security in religious life, and spiritual assurance, according to an article in the March 16 issue of the National Catholic Reporter. The Catholic Church is denying these allegations.
At least two nuns, one bishop, and two priests with positions of influence in the Catholic hierarchy have written or spoken about the widespread sexual exploitation of nuns by priests around the world, with testimony coming from 23 countries, including the United States but mainly concentrated in Africa. Physician and former AIDS coordinator for the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development Sr. Maura O’Donohue and Sr. Marie McDonald of the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa report that priests, especially in developing countries, demand sex in exchange for essential documents that allow nuns to be certified in the Church or to work in a particular diocese. “Since the 1980s in a number of countries sisters are refusing to travel alone with a priest in a car because of fear of harassment or even rape,” Sr. O’Donohue says.
The stories related by Sr. O’Donohue and others make it undoubtedly clear that the reported sexual activity between priests and nuns is not consensual. O’Donohue points out that the situation is further exacerbated by the poor treatment of women in many countries worldwide. She writes, “it was pointed out that in many cultures it is impossible for a woman to say ‘No’ to a man, especially an older man, and particularly so to a priest. This results from the low status of women in these societies, their lack of formal education and the fact that priests are put on pedestals and are recognized as educated members of the society.”
Sources: National Catholic Reporter March 16, 2001, Vol. 37 No. 20; Personal Memo from Sr. Maura O’Donohue MMM: Meeting at SRC, Rome. February 18, 1995; “The Problem of the Sexual Abuse of African Religious in Africa and in Rome” Marie McDonald, MSOLA, Paper for the Council of ‘16’ November 20, 1998
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