Pope has spoken, Church must act

Pope Francis. AFP

Pope Francis has made a welcome admission of the prevalence of sexual abuse of nuns by bishops and priests in the Church, which calls for abstinence on the part of those who wear the clerical clothing. It was the first comment by the Pope on a problem which has been known to exist but has not been addressed by him in public as he has done in the case of homosexuality, which the Church considers a sin, or child abuse. The Pope talked about it on his return flight from a visit to the UAE and said that it could be found anywhere but was prevalent in “some congregations and some regions’’. He also said that the Church has to do more on the matter though it has been working on it for a long time and has taken action in many cases. He also rightly said that the roots of the problem lie in “seeing women as second class’’. 

The Pope’s comments came after an article in the Vatican’s women’s magazine mentioned sexual abuse of nuns, which forced them to have abortions or raise children. It said that nuns have been silent over such abuse for decades and warned that the oppression of women in the Church would never change if it continues to close its eyes to the problem. Such abuse attracted wide attention in India also last year when a nun accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar of repeatedly raping her, and some other nuns and a section of the laity protested against the protection given to him by the Church. Franco was eventually arrested but the case is seen as being deliberately delayed and obstructed. The nuns who supported her have been issued transfer orders in retaliation and punishment, but the order is in limbo. Other supporters of the victim have also been harassed. 

On the same day that the Pope made his comments, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council issued some guidelines to protect minors and “vulnerable persons’’ from sexual exploitation and abuse. The guidelines called for zero tolerance for sexual misconduct, but they are too general to be of much use in preventing sexual abuse or in taking prompt action when they come to light. In any case, the hypocrisy of the Church establishment in issuing such guidelines when it is harassing the supporters of the victim is very clear. The Church was seen shielding the bishop instead of supporting the nun. Victim-shaming also has taken place. The concern expressed by Pope Francis needs to be translated into genuine action in support of victims and against transgressors at the lower levels of the Church. 

 

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Pope has spoken, Church must act

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