#NunsToo: How the Catholic Church has worked to silence women challenging abuse

Washington Post

April 17, 2019

By Lila Rice Goldenberg

On March 26, the eight editors of Women Church World, the monthly Vatican women’s magazine, resigned. They left in protest over the church’s attempts to silence the all-female staff’s reports of clerical abuse of nuns.

The controversy began in February, when the magazine’s writers claim that they were told not to discuss Pope Francis’s revelations about rampant clerical misconduct toward nuns. The authors refused to give in to Vatican pressure. In response, the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, started to run articles that contradicted stories in Women Church World. In a statement to the Associated Press, founder Lucetta Scaraffia said, “After the attempts to put us under control, came the indirect attempts to delegitimize us.”

In the #MeToo era, the Vatican’s attempts to discredit those women who speak out against sexual abuse and harassment by members of the clergy may seem like a desperate ploy to preserve its own fast-eroding moral authority. But this pattern of behavior has been the standard for the Catholic Church since the Middle Ages. For more than a thousand years, the church has denigrated religious women when they challenged clerical abusers.

Historically, the church has opposed groups of religious women who have acted against or outside church control, even if they were acting out of religious conviction. In the Middle Ages, the church used similar tactics with the Beguines, a lay religious movement for women popular throughout medieval cities in the Low Countries, France and Germany.

These women lived semi-monastic lives of prayer and work. Inside their houses, called “beguinages,” they prayed and meditated. They also maintained ties with the outside world. They cared for the sick, taught school for girls and young women, and made textiles and other handicrafts to support themselves. They were prayerful, chaste, charitable and industrious.

In other words, beguines were paradigms of female religiosity.

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