The story told by the former nun from Africa, whom we named Laura to protect her identity, is one persons window into the tragic details of abuse of nuns by priests.
Weve received many e-mails about our March 16 story based on the reports of four senior members of womens religious orders and a U.S. priest. Some reactions were angry and bitter, and others were encouraging and congratulatory. Many of the latter came from nuns, priests and brothers who had long experience in Africa. A few came from clergy and nuns either currently in Africa or studying in the United States. Those who are glad to have the story out most often request not only anonymity but wish to avoid any characterization whatever as individuals in the press. If the mail we have received is any indication -- and there is a representative sampling of that reaction beginning on page 16 -- many want the story told. Many hope the deeper issues dealing with the churchs attitude toward women, with mandatory celibacy, with ecclesial power, with how women religious are perceived in different cultures are explored in some way.
Among those reacting are several invited by NCR to help us begin to understand how to talk about the subject: Eugene Kennedy, Richard Sipe and Margaret Farley.
We will continue to consult experts and experienced church observers as we continue to press for information and understanding.
Laura agreed to tell her story of being raped by a priest when U.S. nuns at her college told her it might help her work through the experience. It is only in highly unusual circumstances that we would run a story and not identify the subject. We consider her story to be authentic and compelling.
She is currently a student in close association with a friend from her home country who remains a nun and with nuns in the United States affiliated with the institution she attends.
Others may come forward in the future. Well attempt to fill out the complex picture as fully as we can.
In the meantime, we note with appreciation that the conversation already has begun on a number of levels, as evidenced by the story from Catholic News Service on page 3 (not posted on-line).
Many resources exist in the church that can help one to deal with difficult episodes. Weve been fortunate to have one of them, Sr. Joan Chittister, on our pages in recent weeks. Her provocative questions for the Lenten season end in an Easter query this week: The only question now is whether or not we are willing to abandon our own [tomb], leave the old trappings behind and live in the light of the Jesus, the Christ. We hope the columns have helped you see the season in new ways this year.
The poem, on page 14, The Grocer, is from Nothing Grows in One Place Forever: Poems of a Sicilian American, by Leo Luke Marcello. It is reprinted by permission of Time Being Books. Copyright © 1998 by Time Being Press. All rights reserved.
-- Tom Roberts
My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
National Catholic Reporter, April 6, 2001