In a recent news conference aboard the papal plane, Pope Francis admitted for the first time that the Roman Catholic Church has faced a persistent problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops.
Francis acknowledged “there have been priests and bishops” who have committed sexual abuse against nuns, and that “it’s continuing because it’s not like once you realize it that it stops.” He said the church needed to do more.
This comes after Catholic nuns across four continents have reported abuse, sought out abortions on the urging of clergymen, and even given birth to the children of priests in recent decades. Hope by survivors and the urging of allies—among those, affected nuns—has helped to finally put this issue on the church’s radar.
But is this enough to bring justice to survivors who have, once again, been affected by the Church’s systemic “cover ups” in order to protect those in the ranks? Whether it is children or nuns, survivors across all walks of life have emerged from troubled pasts in order to speak up—and speak out—against those in the Church who have used their position for nefarious purposes and abuse. It now falls to the public to continue demanding action from the Church for effective change.
Hope for Change—and a Call to Action
Sister Donna Brady of the Sisters of Saint Martha in Antigonish first found out about the abuse happening to her sisters years ago, and felt “a lot of anger and deep sorrow” at the Church’s lack of recognition of a bigger issue. Now, as more women come forward with their stories, she has hope that the Church can change for the better—but they must act to do so.
Brady cites a hierarchical and institutional structure that has traditionally placed nuns at the bottom as one of the primary reasons that this issue has gone on for so long without much word from the Vatican
“I’m hopeful that women are maybe tapping more into our own power, and by power I mean the gift that God has given us for the good of the community. And I think as we’re knowing that and getting stronger in that, that allows us to enter into a dialogue that should change the power dynamics in the church.”
As more women like Brady continue to come forward and hold the Church accountable for its actions, I suspect that more cases will arise in which the Church must answer for its past cover ups. As the responsibility of the Church for the world-wide clergy abuse crisis continues to be questioned, only time will tell when the Church will finally take decisive action against the priests responsible for such terrible acts.
Current Class Action against Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth
It can be incredibly difficult for many abuse survivors to talk about what happened to them. Whether from the trauma of the incident, fear of retaliation or a sense of shame that the abuse ever occurred in the first place, the pain and anxiety following sexual abuse can create a silence that lasts a lifetime and traps survivors within their most painful memories.
Remaining silent protects abusers and allows survivors to continue suffering. In the case of the Catholic Church, which has notoriously covered the tracks of abusers within its ranks, those who have been taken advantage of by clergymen may feel more isolated than ever before as reports of cover ups continue to pour out of the Church.
In Nova Scotia alone, our past class-action settlement with the Diocese of Antigonish involved 142 people who alleged sexual abused by priests over the course of 60 years.
More recently, McKiggan Hebert filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Douglas Champagne against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth in 2018. Our hope is that by championing the stories of those like Mr. Champagne, we can do our part in helping end abuse within the Church.
Need More Information?
We’ve written Breaking the Silence: The Survivor’s Guide to Abuse Compensation Claims so abuse survivors can learn about their legal options confidentially, within the privacy of their homes. Seeking help for yourself—and helping others—starts with holding an abuser accountable.