— Activists say pontiff also ‘turning a blind eye’ to priests who assault nuns and force them to have abortions
Pope Francis has been accused of opposing reforms that would seriously address the problem of clerical sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults, while “turning a blind eye” to priests who assault nuns and force them to have abortions.
Francis promised to “spare no effort” to bring to justice paedophile priests and the bishops who covered up their crimes at an unprecedented summit in February 2019, an event that was supposed to mark a turning point in the handling of a scandal that has embroiled the Catholic church for decades.
A week before the summit, Francis became the first pontiff to publicly admit that priests had also sexually abused nuns, some of whom shared testimony during the event, and pledged to do more to fight the problem.
Three months later, the Vatican established procedures for every diocese to report allegations of abuse and foster accountability for the actions of bishops and cardinals. Francis also abolished the rule of “pontifical secrecy” – a kind of code of confidentiality – in an effort to improve transparency in sexual abuse cases.
Five years on, activists for the survivors of clerical sexual abuse say Francis has failed to fulfil his promises and the new rules have made little impact.
On Tuesday Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-founder of BishopAccountability, which tracks alleged clergy sexual abuse cases, cited 10 cases since 2019 that allegedly show the pope favoured accused bishops and clerics over their victims. The cases include that of Marko Rupnik, who was excommunicated in 2020 after accusations of sexual and psychological assault against nuns dating back three decades, but in 2023 was accepted into a diocese in his native Slovenia.
“It would be one thing if we were coming here to talk about an overall good record with an occasional inconsistency, but we’re not, we’re talking about a continued pattern of the pope backing accused abusers,” Doyle told reporters in Rome. “It’s not that this pope doesn’t have his heart in reform or is maybe being blocked by other members of the curia. I believe he is opposed to reform – his measures have been designed to produce little impact.”
Meanwhile, the Vatican had been aware of the abuse of nuns by priests for decades before the public acknowledgment by Francis, but “nothing has come of his commitment” to fight the issue, said Doris Reisinger, an activist and survivor of clerical sexual abuse who authored a research paper on the girls and women impregnated by priests and their subsequent forced abortions.
“While the pope publicly condemns abortion, comparing it to hiring a hitman, he turns a blind eye to the priests who force nuns into having abortions,” said Reisinger.
Reisinger said that while some nuns had come forward about abuse since 2019, they were mostly too afraid to speak out. There is scant care for abused nuns, many of whom have been thrown out of their orders and made homeless, and under canon law they “have no status at all”, she said.
“The pope has admitted abuse of nuns but he has not acted on it,” said Reisinger. “And we have never heard a pope or bishop acknowledge coerced abortion at the hands of priests. They always treat abortion as a female issue yet they have never spoken about priests forcing abortions, despite knowing it is going on.”
In her research, Reisinger had come across cases in which the priest paid for an abortion, including one occasion when money from the offertory collection was used.
The Vatican has been approached for comment.
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