"It opened a great wound inside of me. I pretended it didn't happen." So says a nun who claims an Italian priest sexually assaulted her while she was confessing to him about 20 years ago in Bologna. A new AP investigation finds she's not alone: Religious sisters are apparently being abused by bishops and priests in Asia, South America, Africa, and Europe, and usually keeping quiet about the assaults. That changed this week when five nuns appeared on national TV in Chile and told their stories of sexual abuse by priests and other nuns, Crux reports. It's an older story in Africa, where reports have emerged of priests abusing nuns and pressuring them into abortions; a six-year study and follow-up report for the Vatican found 29 nuns impregnated at one congregation.
The National Catholic Reporter revealed that study in 2001, but what the Church did is unclear. Meanwhile, the Vatican remains quiet on the issue and lacks rules to probe and punish abusers, leaving it to local church leaders to take action. "Consecrated women have to be encouraged to speak up when they are molested," says a Vatican official on the condition of anonymity. "Bishops have to be encouraged to take them seriously, and make sure the priests are punished if guilty." But amid #MeToo and an ever-widening Catholic Church abuse scandal, more nuns may be speaking up for themselves. "I see it as two freedoms: freedom of the weight for a victim, and freedom of a lie and a violation by the priest," says the nun allegedly assaulted in Bologna. "I hope this helps other sisters free themselves of this weight." (Read more Catholic Church stories.)