Church Is Striving to End Abuse of Women Religious by Clerics, Pope Says

Aboard the papal plane returning to Rome today, the Holy Father acknowledged that mistreatment and sexual abuse has occurred, and needs to be prevented.

Pope Francis answers journalists’ questions, aboard the papal plane returning to Rome following his three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Pope Francis answers journalists’ questions, aboard the papal plane returning to Rome following his three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates. (photo: Edward Pentin)

VATICAN CITY —Pope Francis said Tuesday he is aware that mistreatment and abuse of religious women by clerics is still a problem, and that it is something the Church is working to end.

“It’s true, within the Church there have been clerics who have done this,” the Pope said Feb. 5. “Must something more be done? Yes. Do we have the will? Yes.”

He spoke aboard the papal plane returning to Rome after a two-day trip to the United Arab Emirates, responding to a question about sexual abuse of women religious by priests, a recent subject in the women’s section of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

Recent reports have suggested that abuse of women religious by clerics is more prevalent in Africa and Asia.

The most prominent instance of alleged abuse of a woman religious by a cleric is the case of a nun of the Missionaries of Jesus, in the Indian state of Kerala. She has accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullunder of sexually assaulting her 13 times between 2014 and 2016.

Mulakkal was arrested Sept. 21, 2018, but was released on bail. A police investigation is ongoing, and the bishop has been temporarily removed from his responsibilities as Bishop of Jullundur.

Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, has been accused of receiving the nun's complaint against Bishop Mulakkal in March 2018, and failing to report it to the police.

The Pope said he believes the problem is more common in some cultures than others, but acknowledged that “there have been priests and also bishops who have done that. And I believe it may still be being done.”

The Church has “been working on this for a long time,” including through the suspension of clerics and
the dissolution of some congregations involved in “corruption.”

“It’s a problem. The mistreatment of women is a problem,” the pope said. Asking for prayers, he added that he wants to go forward. “There are cases, yes,” he said, adding: “We are working.”

The issue was broached as the Vatican approaches a four-day meeting of the heads of bishops’ conferences and religious orders to discuss the sexual abuse of minors. The summit will be held Feb. 21-24.

In his response the Pope also denounced the treatment of women as “second-class” and said it is often a cultural problem which in some countries can escalate even to the point of female babies being the targets of infanticide.

“I would dare to say that humanity still hasn’t matured” regarding the full equality of women, he said.

Francis also underlined the work of Benedict XVI, who he called “a strong man, a consistent man,” who acted courageously to combat “sexual and economic corruption” both before and during his years as pope.

“About Pope Benedict I would like to underscore that he is a man that had the courage to do many things on this theme,” Francis said.