‘I Just Want To Follow Jesus, And I Can’t Here’: New Book Reveals Abuse Within Religious Communities Of Women

ROME (CNS) — “I understood that we were all like dogs. They told us to sit down and we had to sit, get up and we got up, to roll over and we roll over,” said an Australian-born religious identified only as “Sister Elizabeth” in the book “Veil of Silence”.

After 30 years in the religious life, she said she realizes that she too had treated younger members of the congregation that way.

“Many still use that abusive behavior that has been passed down from generation to generation,” she told Salvatore Cernuzio, a journalist and author of “Il Velo del Silenzio” (“Veil of Silence”), a book in Italian that was planned for publication November 23.

“I understood that we were all like dogs. They told us to sit and we had to sit, get up and we got up, to roll over and we rolled over.”

In a note from the author, Cernuzio writes of a surprising encounter with a childhood friend who had joined a monastic community of nuns; 10 years later, a “tribunal” of older sisters decided she had no calling and sent her home.

That meeting, he said, came just days after La Civiltà Cattolica published an article by Jesuit Father Giovanni Cucci, a professor of psychology and philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome, in which he called for greater attention from the church to psychological and physical abuse in communities of women religious.

While his childhood friend was still too upset to talk about her experience, even a year after leaving the monastery, Cernuzio wrote, he began talking to women who were willing to share their stories. The book contains interviews with 11 women; one of them was sexually assaulted by a priest, but was told by her superiors that she must have turned him on. The others talk about abuse of power and psychological or emotional abuse, mainly through acts of cruelty, humiliation and refusal of medical or psychological help.

Several of them mention how, especially in the novitiate, they had to ask permission to do or have anything, including taking a shower.

Several of them mention how, especially in the novitiate, they had to ask for permission to do or have anything – including to shower or use hygiene products during their menstrual cycle.

Sister Aleksandra, who told Cernuzio about abuse by a priest, said she is seeking a way out of her community.

“I don’t know where to go, I just want to follow Jesus, and that’s not possible here. I can no longer live in this situation and am afraid of destroying my physical, psychological and spiritual health. I hope to find help, maybe from a few laymen, because I know my church doesn’t care about me,” she said. “As I’ve heard so many times, the fault always lies with the one who leaves.”

In the introduction to the book, Father Cucci said that the stories of the 11 women have several things in common, but most notably a tendency in some more traditional orders to keep the same one or more of them in office for decades, which can lead to them ” will by the will of God” for the sisters in their community.

“I can no longer live in this situation and I am afraid of destroying my physical, psychological and spiritual health.”

They also confuse uniformity with the unity or peace of the community and treat any kind of questioning not only as a challenge to the superior, but as a rejection of God’s will.

The stories, especially Sister Aleksandra’s, also show how slow the Church has been in changing the way it handles sexual abuse. “Protecting the good name of the institute is paramount, sacrificing the victim. The abused religious is transferred after being accused of seducing the priest and the priest remains in place and continues his predatory activity undisturbed.”

In the preface to the book, Xaviere Missionary Sister Nathalie Becquart, one of the two Undersecretaries of the Synod of Bishops, said that the Church must listen to the victims of such abuse and recognize that “consecrated life in all its diversity, like any reality in the church can generate both the best and the worst in people.

“The abused religious is transferred after being accused of seducing the priest and the priest remains in place and continues his predatory activity undisturbed.”

Religious life is at its best “when the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are presented as a path of human and spiritual growth, a journey of maturation that grows people’s freedom because authority is called to promote the dignity of the person.” “, she says. wrote. “The worst is when the religious vows are interpreted and performed in a way that infantilizes, oppresses or even manipulates and destroys people.”

“The entire church,” she said, must deal with “a culture steeped in clericalism” and “forms of authority steeped in various kinds of abuse.”

The solution, Sister Becquart said, is to establish what Pope Francis has described as a model of a “synodal church” where each baptized person is respected, listened to and takes responsibility for caring for one another and serving missionaries in to be the world.

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