One wonders at the priorities of a man who failed to defrock a priest in Wisconsin who molested hundreds of children but acted so decisively in the case of one who married a consenting adult.
This is the question raised of Pope Benedict XVI by Lisa Miller, religion editor at Newsweek, in an article about the sexual abuse, exploitation, and rape of women religious (nuns) by
holy, chaste, and celibate Catholic priests in Africa. I guess that blaming the gays for the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is out.
In 1998, Sister Marie McDonald, a Roman Catholic nun, wrote her superiors about the situation facing women religious in the church. Here are a few excerpts via the National Catholic Reporter:
1. Sexual harassment and even rape of sisters by priests and bishops is allegedly common. Sometimes, when a sister becomes pregnant, the priest insists that she have an abortion. The sister is usually dismissed from her congregation while the priest is often only moved to another parish -- or sent for studies.
2. Many sisters become financially dependent upon priests who may ask for sexual favours in return.
3. Priests sometimes take advantage of spiritual direction and of the sacrament or Reconciliation to ask for sexual favours.
McDonald goes on to state what she sees as causes of this phenomenon of abuse: celibacy/chasitity aren't cultural values, the inferior position of women in church and society, belief that nuns don't have HIV and are safe (also that sex with virgins cures AIDS), unjust salaries for nuns cause dependence on priests, nuns sent to Rome for studies has to exchange sexual favors with priests to find housing abroad, and the "conspiracy of silence" surrounding the issue.
Not much has changed in the past twelve years, since McDonald put a voice to the abuse of women religious in the Catholic Church, as the Newsweek article indicates:
According to the National Catholic Reporter, which made McDonald's memo public in 2001, Vatican officials did take steps to rectify the problem, but publicly, their stance was chillingly familiar. "The problem is known and is restricted to a limited geographical area," said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman at the time. This is an isolated incident, in other words; we've got it under control.
Even as new cases of child sexual abuse by clergy emerge each day in Europe and the United States, abuse in the regions where Catholicism is growing fastest—Latin America, Asia, and, especially, Africa—are still largely ignored. In the West, the focus has been on the violation of minors, and on the role of celibacy in engendering this problem. In Africa, the problem is somewhat more complex. Though many good priests do adhere to their chastity vows, says the Rev. Peter Schineller, a Jesuit priest who has spent 20 years in Africa, sex between consenting or semi-consenting adults is commonplace. Transgression against chastity vows by priests run the gamut from harassment all the way to fathering children; it's not criminal necessarily, but it's certainly against doctrine. "The violations are huge," says Schineller. As the Roman Catholic hierarchy continues to crow over its success and vitality in the global south—the growth rate in Africa and Asia has been about 3 percent a year, twice the rate worldwide—the African church may put mandatory clerical celibacy to its harshest test yet.
Sexual coercion is just part of the story. The 2001 investigation by the National Catholic Reporter uncovered three separate reports of sexual abuse of religious sisters by priests. The story described priests raping religious sisters and then paying for their abortions; sisters fearing to travel in cars with priests for fear of rape; sisters appealing to bishops for help only to be told to go away. "Even when they are listened to sympathetically," wrote McDonald, "nothing seems to be done." (Click here for the rest of the article.)
The Catholic Church's system of celibacy is broken, bleeding from its self-imposed sexual wounds. Perhaps it's time to let this medieval system bleed out.