Written by Sabrina Ng

What happened?

The story is not a unique one.

A young nun, lonely and growing doubtful of her faith, turns to her priest for spiritual aid – he in turn, takes advantage of her vulnerability to sexually violate her. This narrative has been actualised, in a recent interview with Pope Francis who admitted that his predecessor, Pope Benedict had dissolved a female congregation in order to cover up for the sexual slavery imposed upon them by members of the cleric.

Sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has long been an open secret. Pope Francis’ comment marks one of the first instances whereby a high-ranking member of the Catholic Church has explicitly referenced the issue in public. He blames the sexual abuse crisis on what is known as “clericalism” – or the abuse of power by priests. Since then, a floodgate of allegations has been opened by the victims all over the world against members of the clergy, high-ranking or otherwise.

What are the ramifications? 

Pope Francis’ comment has been met with both dissent and commendation from either side of the fence. Sexual abuse victims rally behind his remark, grateful that a high-ranking member of the clergy has finally acknowledged what so many have chosen to ignore over the years. However, there remains pushback to his comment, in particular from US Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke and German Cardinal Walter Brandmueller. “The plague of the homosexual agenda has been spread within the church, promoted by organised networks and protected by a climate of complicity and a conspiracy of silence,” was the explanation that Cardinals gave for the sexual abuse epidemic in the Church.

What’s next?

190 bishops and other prelates from around the world are gathering for a meeting regarding the protection of minors in the Catholic Church this weekend (February 21st – February  24th). Vatican officials say the meeting’s themes will be responsibility, accountability, and transparency, and hopes that it will be a turning point in the church’s history towards sexual abuse. Despite this, they have tried to manage expectations by stating that whilst the gathering is an opportunity for discussion and reflection, it may not yield concrete measures.

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