SACRED TRUST: Sexual abuse often begins from a spiritual relationship

“Sexual abuse of religious women by priests usually develops from a relationship that was originally spiritual.”
– Sr. Geneviève Médevielle

1 Peter 5:1-4:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Editor’s Note: It remains a cancerous wound that exploded onto the agenda of the Universal Church and has dominated the headlines for the past two decades – the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable women by clergy; and multiple attempts to cover-up their misdeeds at local, national and on a global scale.

The mishandling of abuse has been nothing short of catastrophic to the moral authority of the Church. Here in Ireland we witnessed it in a profound way in August 2018, when the visit of Pope Francis was engulfed by multiple contemporary and historical abuse scandals. And this at a time of deepening divisions and the threat of Climate Change across the globe that require urgent voices of enlightenment, tolerance, reconciliation, compassion, forgiveness and peacebuilding. 

Yes, it is true that the sickness of pedophilia and sexual abuse is not exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church, nor is it exclusive to any one religion or to a specific race of people. But, as guardians of the Truth, called by Christ to be a light to the world and protectors of the young and vulnerable, we cannot rely on excuses to justify our failings. And, moving forward, zero tolerance must be the ever present flagstaff that holds aloft the proclamation that there can and will be no compromise on the high standards positions of sacred trust require.

As the crisis has deepened, more and more layers have been exposed, including that of the abuse of positions of authority in the Church to exploit students, seminarians and religious sisters whose vows of obedience has been manipulated and misused by unscrupulous priests, bishops and at least one cardinal.   

Sr.Geneviève Médevielle

On January 17, 2019, La Croix International, published an interview with Sr. Geneviève Médevielle, a professor of moral theology at the Catholic Institute of Paris, who works with religious women, including some who have been abused by clergy. 

The article states that many religious women in Africa have allegedly been sexually abused by members of the clergy but have remained silent.

In answer to the question: “How to explain the mechanism that leads to such abuse?”, Sr. Geneviève answered: 

“A young religious woman is in a vulnerable situation. In her enthusiasm to give herself completely to Christ and in her concern for perfection, she may tend to idealize obedience as she learns to place her life in the hands of others.

“Experienced novice master [or mistress] will do everything possible to ensure that a young religious sister will retain her autonomy.

“However, if she is in contact with people who do not allow her to live out a genuine experience of freely chosen obedience, cases where a psychological hold develops are possible, even without falling into sexual perversion.

“Sexual abuse of religious women by priests usually develops from a relationship that was originally spiritual. This happens because he is the confessor, the chaplain or even the bishop.”

You may access the full interview by clicking here.