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Sex Deprived Priests Raping Nuns: Celibacy in Doubt?

Transgression against chastity vows by priests run the gamut from harassment, and outright rape, all the way to fathering children..

According to Newsweek, a memo titled “The Problem of the Sexual Abuse of African Religious in Africa and in Rome,” written in 1998 by a Roman Catholic nun named Marie McDonald, was concise. “Sexual harassment and even rape of sisters by priests and bishops is allegedly common,” it said. Sisters, financially dependent on priests, occasionally have to perform sexual favors in exchange for money. McDonald analyzed the causes of this widespread violation of chastity vows and then made this plea: “The time has come for some concerted action.” 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 three percent per 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.”

Much less well documented is a broader problem: priests with unofficial “wives.” In Africa, “there’s a tremendous problem with the vow of chastity in regard to women,” says Schineller. “Statistics are hard to get, but it’s a reality. Bishops are sometimes involved with it, but mostly they simply have not faced it. It’s kind of a hidden thing. Laypeople want priests, so they put up with the priest having a friend.” About four years ago, Schineller worked with the bishops of Nigeria to produce a pamphlet warning parish priests about the dangers of violating their chastity vows. “There are consequences for all of this,” he said.

Schineller believes that priests all over the world fail to maintain their celibacy—more, he says, than anyone wants to admit—but that Africa presents priests with a unique set of problems. In Africa, parents have a higher social status than childless adults. “To be a man in Africa—it varies from culture to culture—it is expected that you will have children and a family. To be a celibate male is not a high value.” Also, he adds, priests are often very isolated: they get lonely. “Priests are separated, living out in the bush. Family expectations are high, temptations are strong.” And women, as Marie McDonald put it in her top-secret document, hold an “inferior position.” “It seems,” she wrote, “that a sister finds it impossible to refuse a priest who asks for sexual favors.” (It’s easy to imagine that holds true as well for women who are not nuns.)

Nuns hold a unique place in this sexual landscape. In a universe where AIDS is widespread, sex with nuns is thought to be safe; some imagine it might even have positive, healing powers. Priests who might have visited prostitutes see religious sisters as a healthy alternative. “One of the most dangerous myths in history,” adds Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, “was this: if you were suffering from a serious sexual disease, sex with a virgin would cure it. That had awful consequences.”

The Vatican has known about these sins and crimes for some time. When Benedict XVI traveled to Africa in 2005, for example, he addressed the question of celibacy explicitly. He urged the bishops there to “open themselves fully to serving others as Christ did by embracing the gift of celibacy.”

Indeed, Benedict holds celibacy so high that last year he excommunicated a Zambian priest, the Rev. Luciano Anzanga Mbewe, for being married. Mbewe now heads a breakaway sect of married Catholic priests in Uganda called the Catholic Apostolic National Church, according to The New York Times. “The creation of the splinter church underscored the increasingly vexing problem of enforcing celibacy for Roman Catholic priests in Africa, which has the world’s fastest-growing Catholic population but where there have been several cases of priests living openly with women and fathering children,” the Times wrote. 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.

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Posted by on April 27, 2010. Filed under Commentary,News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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15 Responses to Sex Deprived Priests Raping Nuns: Celibacy in Doubt?

  1. Gwendolyn H. Barry Reply

    April 27, 2010 at 12:34 am

    It’s rough out there for penguins… {Jesus, I couldn’t resist that … I mean really… I’m giggling to death here… bad girls like me end up no good ya know…}
    Mike, were you aware that the US Catholic Bishops have been petitioning the Vatican for the last thirty years for an Inquisition here into nearly all the orders of nuns because of their autonomy and fame in so many circles of society…esp. academia? Just thought I’d mention that.. you prob knew. Nuns in Western Europe are following too… Benedict has though it time to ‘look into it’. Many well known nuns are actually boycotting the process. I support them. As a Sister in the Goddess. They appreciate it too!
    🙂
    It’s very good information, the post!

  2. Lazersedge Reply

    April 27, 2010 at 2:50 am

    With the number of priests committing pedophilia this is supposed to be a surprise? Hardly.

  3. Infidel753 Reply

    April 27, 2010 at 5:17 am

    Only in the context of the Catholic hierarchy could the news of something like mass rape of nuns actually come across as surprisingly normal.

    But one must, of course, resist the temptation of such a reaction. The real issue here is just the same as with the child molestation. There was an ongoing pattern of serious felonies against persons being committed. The hierarchy knew about it. Why were the perpatrators not handed over to the police?

    I’m convinced that the celibacy rule does play a big role in the reasons for such crimes, but ultimately that’s a side issue. Many people are sexually deprived and yet do not commit sexual abuse. People have free will. The responsibility for rape lies with the rapist.

  4. Mother Hen Reply

    April 27, 2010 at 7:52 am

    As sick as it is, I am with Infidel- at least the nuns are adults. This only makes it more acceptable than pedophilia like cutting off one hand is more acceptable than cutting off both. In Africa there is also bizarre cultural practices and superstitions that contribute. Childless men having lower status? Sex with nuns to cure AIDS? Combined with the restrictions imposed by celibacy the outcome isn’t surprising. To defrock a priest for marrying (but not raping or molesting) is a perfect example of what is wrong with the Catholic hierarchy.

  5. Holte Ender Reply

    April 27, 2010 at 9:11 am

    How many more isolated incidents are we going to hear about? Kids, Nuns, what next. Perhaps they ought to just stick with each other and live happily ever after.

  6. Randal Graves Reply

    April 27, 2010 at 10:55 am

    None of the nuns I had as teachers while a wee lad ever dressed like that.

    • Holte Ender Reply

      April 27, 2010 at 2:36 pm

      None of my Nun teachers looked remotely like that either. The only Nun skin I ever saw was their face and their hands, with their hands usually holding a blunt instrument.

  7. fourdinners Reply

    April 27, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    I have actually seen a couple of nuns that would qualify!

    Young and hot….well at least they looked like they were under the habit and stuff….

    They even smiled when I wolf whistled…mind you I was only 18 at the time so my tastes were a wee bit eclectic….

    • The Lawyer Reply

      April 27, 2010 at 7:35 pm

      What a sad waste for anyone to pass up a harmless, “guilty” pleasure. If screwing were a sin that everyone abstained from in a perfect Catholic world, there’d be no nuns. I used to paint houses for an ex-Catholic priest in college. His wife–an ex-nun. He was a weird, angry SOB, but I liked him.

  8. Juju Reply

    October 1, 2010 at 10:47 am

    The report is biased, though contains some true information! I lived in Europe for 5years and came to learn, as unofficial as this report, that in some European dioceses, up to 2 (TWO) children are still acceptable for a priest, but more than that, “the diocese won’t support” the priests anymore! Ask me how many African priests are incardinated in European dioceses!!!

  9. Andrew Ebunoha Reply

    December 20, 2010 at 11:38 am

    My name is Fr. Andrew Ebunoha from Nigeria. The problems of celibacy as indicated in the write-up is not a diffcult issue.Most priests in Nigeria makes effort to embracy the virtue of celiacy. There are few cases of sisters being raped by the priests.
    All we need to do is to pray fro our priests and wish them well and not to blackmail them.
    Fr.Andy.

    • Dani Reply

      May 20, 2011 at 12:27 pm

      I guess, you are not thinking about the poor nuns that are enduring this horrendous abuse. I guess, we should not pray for those victims, but rather the virtuous priestd. And we should not blackmail them. After all, it is best to keep their deeds in the dark, like what has been going on for ages. You are no man of God. Trying to deny or down rate the sexual abuse that is going on against others proves this. Maybe, we all should pray for you and your virtuous colleagues indeed.

  10. Anonymous Reply

    June 27, 2011 at 6:02 am

    let nuns have sex .what it is to us .even some corrupt priest enjoy fucking them let try .
    a better suggestion for nun is convert to hinduism.

  11. eyitayo .O Reply

    August 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    whatever we do,we wil give account to God.it is high time priests are allowed to marry

  12. Pingback: 10/17/11 « Filipino Blogs para sa paaralang Xavier H3E

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