Canada’s Catholic bishops and religious men and women have condemned the clerical abuse of women religious in the wake of a French documentary that was aired on television in Quebec.
The April 25 statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) and the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC) coincided with the airing of a two-part documentary on the sexual abuse of nuns and religious sisters by priests on the French-language channel RDI. The documentary first aired in France on March 5.
“This is a worldwide tragedy acknowledged by Pope Francis and the International Union of Women Superiors General,” the statement said in acknowledging the accusations in the documentary.
“This report, like other media reports, highlights the particular vulnerability of young religious women in the Western world, but most importantly the global south.”
The CCCB and CRC “unreservedly condemn these wrongdoings and insist that the perpetrators must be investigated and judged by appropriate civil and ecclesiastical authorities,” said the statement.
The documentary told the stories of several women religious, some from France who were seduced by their priest spiritual director, others by a priest associated with a L’Arche community there.
A woman religious from Montreal named Lucie said she was regularly abused by a priest, but was told to “turn the page” and “forget about it.”
Sister Marie-Paul Ross, a psychotherapist in Quebec, said on the documentary a predator priest had confessed that women religious who became pregnant were forced to have abortions.
The documentary covered abuse by priests in the Community of St. Jean exposed in 2013.
“According to the report, some dioceses and institutions of consecrated life were slow to react and even covered up facts and allegations,” the CCCB-CRC statement said.
“These painful truths can only encourage us to do everything in our power to ensure that such crimes and sins will not happen again…. As Bishops and as men and women Superiors Major, our first concern goes to the victims,” along with a promise to “listen respectfully and answer with compassion” any complaints of suffering.
The statement notes both the CCCB and CRC are committed to implementing the protocols found in the latest sexual abuse document produced by the Canadian bishops in 2018 entitled Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation, and Transformation.
The documentary followed news reports of clerical abuse of religious women in the wake of the #MeToo movement, starting late last year and with more in February 2019, prompting Pope Francis to admit to reporters while travelling in the Middle East that clerical abuse of women religious is a problem.
However, the problem is not a new one. There have been reports dating back to the 1990s and the early 2000s.
In India, Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar diocese was charged in early April after a nun accused him of raping a nun 13 times between 2014 and 2016. He has denied the charges. Last July, more than 80 sisters were among the signatories of a letter asking for the bishop to be removed.