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
8/28/2015 Alaska Court Protects Abortion Access for Low-Income Women - The Alaska Superior Court struck down a state law yesterday that would have severely limited abortion access for low-income women in Alaska.
The state's Superior Court also struck down a Department of Health and Social Services regulation that placed narrow specifications on Medicaid coverage for abortions, requiring that Medicaid-funded abortions be determined by a physician to be "medically necessary." Last year, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood sued on behalf of the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, claiming that the narrow definition of "medically necessary" arbitrarily established conditions designed to restrict the ability of low-income women to access abortion services.
The law was temporarily blocked last July by an Alaskan state court judge.
Superior Court Judge John Suddock ordered yesterday that the state be blocked from implementing this regulation, ruling that it placed an undue burden on low-income women seeking abortion services in Alaska.
"By providing health care to all poor Alaskans except women who need abortions, the challenged regulation violates the state constitutional guarantee of 'equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law'," the ruling read.
"We applaud the superior court for striing down these cruel restrictions on women's health and rights that violate the Alaska Constitution," said Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. . . .
8/26/2015 Saudi Women Prepare to Vote for the First Time - The fight for gender equality is making slow but notable progress in Saudi Arabia, where women will be allowed to vote for the first time in upcoming December elections.
This shift in Saudi law came in 2011, when a royal decree announced that women would be allowed to vote and run in local elections beginning in December of 2015. . . .