Demonstrators Outside United Nations Urge Vatican to Fight Sexual Abuse of Nuns
Demonstrators gathered outside the United Nations' New York headquarters Saturday to call on the Vatican and Pope John Paul II to make greater efforts toward fighting the "sexual abuse of nuns by priests" in Africa and around the world, the New York Times reports. The protesters included representatives from a "range of religious and feminist groups" who argued that the Vatican has been aware of the problem of sexual abuse among nuns for "several years," but has "done nothing to combat the problem." In March, the Vatican publicly acknowledged the issue after several reports by senior members of religious orders for women detailed accounts of such abuses (Flanders, New York Times, 7/15). The five reports, which were published in the National Catholic Reporter, stated that cases of sexual abuse against nuns have been reported in at least 23 countries. One report stated that women were sometimes "forced" by priests into sexual liaisons in order to obtain certificates or recommendations needed for work in a diocese. The report also stated that priests "recommend[ed]" that nuns use contraception, sometimes telling the women that oral contraceptives would prevent the transmission of HIV. The reports also stated that some nuns have become pregnant by priests and "forced to have abortions." According to the Times, the reports added that priests in Africa often live in "isolated" areas and fear contracting HIV from prostitutes and "other high-risk groups," but perceive nuns as "safe sexual partners" who do not carry the virus (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/21). The 70 protesters who assembled yesterday presented a petition to the Vatican's Permanent Observer Mission at the United Nations "demanding" that the Church "reveal what it has done to combat sexual abuse of the nuns" and show cooperation "with civil authorities so that priests accused of abuse can be tried in the courts of the countries where the abuse took place." The demonstrators also called on the Church to both reinstate nuns who were dismissed because they became pregnant by priests and provide financial support for children fathered by priests. Shortly after the publication of the reports, Joaquin Navarro Valls, a spokesperson for the pope, said that the incidents occurred in a "restricted geographical area" and "must not overshadow the often heroic faith of the overwhelming majority of religious nuns and priests" (New York Times, 7/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.