KURAVILANGAD, India The stories spill out in the sitting
rooms of Catholic convents, where portraits of Jesus keep watch and
fans spin quietly overhead. They spill out in church meeting halls
bathed in fluorescent lights, and over cups of cheap instant coffee
in convent kitchens. Always, the stories come haltingly, quietly.
Sometimes, the nuns speak at little more than a whisper.
Across India, the nuns talk of priests who pushed into their
bedrooms and of priests who pressured them to turn close
friendships into sex. They talk about being groped and kissed, of
hands pressed against them by men they were raised to believe were
representatives of Jesus Christ.
He was drunk, said one nun, beginning her story. You dont know
how to say no, said another.
At its most grim, the nuns speak of repeated rapes, and of a
Catholic hierarchy that did little to protect them.
The Vatican has long been aware of nuns sexually abused by
priests and bishops in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa, but
it has done very little to stop it, The
Associated Press reported last year.
Now, the AP has investigated the situation in a single country
India and uncovered a decades-long history of nuns enduring sexual
abuse from within the church. Nuns described in detail the sexual
pressure they endured from priests, and nearly two dozen other
people nuns, former nuns and priests, and others said they had
direct knowledge of such incidents.
Still, the scale of the problem in India remains unclear,
cloaked by a powerful culture of silence. Many nuns believe abuse
is commonplace, insisting most sisters can at least tell of fending
off a priests sexual advances. Some believe it is rare. Almost
none, though, talk about it readily, and most speak only on the
condition they not be identified.
But this summer, one Indian nun forced the issue into the
When repeated complaints to church officials brought no
response, the 44-year-old nun filed a police complaint against the
bishop who oversees her religious order, accusing him of raping her
13 times over two years. Soon after, a group of her fellow nuns
launched a two-week public protest in Indias Catholic heartland,
demanding the bishops arrest.
It was an unprecedented action, dividing Indias Catholic
community. Inside the accusers convent in rural Kerala state, she
and the nuns who support her are now pariahs, isolated from the
other sisters, many of whom insist the bishop is innocent. The
protesting nuns get hate mail and avoid going out.
Some people are accusing us of working against the church, of
being against the church. They say, You are worshipping Satan, said
one supporter, Sister Josephine Vi...