Ms. magazine  -- more than a magazine a movement

SIGN UP FOR MS. DIGEST, JOBS, NEWS AND ALERTS

FEMINIST WIRE NEWSBRIEFS

ABOUT
SEE CURRENT ISSUE
SHOP MS. STORE
MS. IN THE CLASSROOM
FEMINIST DAILY WIRE
FEMINIST RESOURCES
PRESS
JOBS AT MS.
READ BACK ISSUES
CONTACT
RSS (XML)
 
feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

August-28-01

The Sins of the Fathers

A friend in the sisters of Loretto told me after a trip to Ghana in the early 1990s that sisters there reported that priests forced them to have sex before they were allowed to receive grants from groups abroad. Many of us in the Catholic community had heard these kinds of stories before, but it wasn't until March of this year that the National Catholic Reporter, a liberal weekly, published a report documenting the sexual abuse of women by priests and bishops—abuse that had been covered up by church leaders. Much of the information came from two memos, written in 1994 and 1995 to the Vatican by Sister Maura O'Donohue of the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, an aid agency based in the U.K.

The O'Donohue memos provide an anecdotal rap sheet of offenses that include incidents such as nuns being coerced into sexual intercourse in return for permission from priests to study abroad. While the memos often don't mention specific dates or the country in which each offense was committed, 23 countries were cited, including Brazil, India, Ireland, Italy, and the U.S. Many of the cases focused on Africa, where priests sexually abused nuns in an attempt to avoid the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

O'Donohue cites the case of a priest who brought a pregnant nun to a Catholic hospital for an abortion. The nun died during the procedure, and the priest then officiated at her requiem mass. In another case, a mother superior complained to her archbishop that priests in the diocese had impregnated 29 of her nuns. The archbishop subsequently relieved the nun of her duties. And then there was the instance of a mother superior who was approached by priests requesting that sisters be made available to them for sexual favors. When she refused, the priests explained that they would have to go to the village to find women, and thus might contract HIV. In 1995, O'Donohue met with Vatican officials in an effort to end the abuse.

Many of us hoped that the Vatican would take swift action. But nothing was done, and indeed nuns reported four years later that the problem was worse. When the story finally broke this year, the Vatican said the problem was "restricted to a limited geographical area." It blamed the victims—after all, the sisters in Africa were not well educated—and excused the perpetrators by claiming that African culture did not respect celibacy. Even one of the authors of the report published in the National Catholic Reporter worried that going public could "scapegoat" Africa.

The Vatican has a history of protecting priests who rape and impregnate women. In 1984, a 22-year-old Filipine American charged seven priests in the Los Angeles archdiocese with having sex with her when she was a teen, and one of them with fathering her child. The diocese provided the one priest who ultimately corroborated her story with a monthly stipend while he was living in the Philippines, where church officials had dispatched him until the controversy died down. Other examples of Vatican misogyny abound:

* In 1993, the pope called on women who had been impregnated by rapists during the Bosnian conflict to "transform an act of violence into an act of love" by becoming mothers.

* In 1994, the Vatican beatified a woman because she chose to stay with a physically abusive husband rather than violate the marriage sacrament by leaving.

* In 1996, the Vatican withdrew its annual contribution to UNICEF because the fund had endorsed a health manual for refugee populations that mentioned the use of emergency contraception for women who had been raped.

* In 1998, the Vatican strove to exclude "forced pregnancy" from a list of war crimes, fearing that it could be used to support abortion. The campaign failed.

* In 1999, the Vatican condemned a U.N. resolution providing emergency contraception to women who had been raped during the conflict in Kosovo, this time claimi

Media Resources: MsMagazine


© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

If you liked this story, consider making a tax-deductible donation to support Ms. magazine.

 

 

Send to a Friend
Their
Your
Comments
(optional)


More Feminist News

10/31/2014 Federal Judge Exempts Another Catholic University from Birth Control Coverage - A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Ave Maria University, a Catholic university in Florida, does not have to comply with federal rules meant to ensure that covered employees can exercise their right to obtain birth control at no cost. The Affordable Care Act requires all new health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives - such as the pill, emergency contraceptives, and IUDs - without charging co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. . . .
 
10/31/2014 Women of Color in Tennessee Are United in Opposition to Amendment 1 - Just days before the general election in Tennessee, a coalition of community leaders, clergy, and advocates led a press conference encouraging women of color to vote no on Amendment 1, a dangerous and far-reaching measure on the state's ballot. SisterReach, a grassroots organization focused on "empowering, organizing, and mobilizing women and girls in the community around their reproductive and sexual health to make informed decisions about themselves," organized the press conference "to call attention to the unique concerns Black and poor communities throughout Shelby County and across the state of Tennessee face on a daily basis" and to emphasize how the upcoming election "could further limit [black women's] reproductive, economic, political, and social autonomy." "We assemble today to impress upon black women and women of color, many of whom are heads of households, to get out and vote," said SisterReacher Founder and CEO Cherisse Scott at the event. SisterReach has been educating voters about the particularly dangerous impact of Amendment 1 on women of color. . . .
 
10/30/2014 Medication Abortion Access Threatened by Oklahoma Court Ruling - An Oklahoma state district court judge has refused to block a state law restricting medication abortion, clearing the way for the law to go into affect on November 1. The Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, together with a local abortion clinic in Tulsa, challenged HB 2684 in September, arguing that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on non-surgical abortion in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. . . .