e-mail us

Church in Crisis

African bishops call for oversight of nuns’ formation

More than a year after reports of sexual abuse of nuns by priests in Africa and elsewhere first became public, an association of bishops’ conferences from central Africa has recommended creating commissions to oversee the formation of female religious, and to protect the autonomy of women’s diocesan religious communities.

Inadequate formation and the dependence of diocesan communities upon local clergy were two factors cited in a series of reports documenting the sexual abuse of nuns by priests, first reported in NCR (March 16, 2001). Such abuse was cited in 23 nations, but the bulk of the personal testimony came from Africa.

The new recommendations came in a message, titled “The Woman in Society and in the Church,” from a July 6-14 meeting of the Association of Episcopal Conferences of the Region of Central Africa. The meeting included bishops from Equitorial Guinea, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Gabon and the Central African Republic.

The message, largely directed toward injustices against women in African societies, does not specifically mention the problem of sexual abuse of nuns. It refers generically to factors that block the “promotion and growth” of women both in society and in the church.

The message denounces such abuses as genital mutilation, assaults on the physical integrity of women, premature and forced matrimony, and painful rites for widows.

Referring specifically to nuns, the message says: “We ask that a commission presided over by a bishop be instituted to promote the formation of women religious and to protect a just autonomy of diocesan institutes of consecrated life, as envisioned by the Code of Canon Law.”

The bishops also write that, “Consecrated women, witnesses to the values of the reign of Christ, have a precious role in ecclesial life and in society. When they live fully their vocation, they are seen as models, counselors and educators who edify the people of God.”

The message, originally issued in French, was published in Italian translation in the Aug. 8 issue of L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper.

-- John L. Allen Jr.

National Catholic Reporter, August 16, 2002