Pope Francis on Yemen, Venezuela and the abuse of nuns by clergy

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to Rome Feb. 5, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

During a 45-minute press conference on the flight from Abu Dhabi to Rome, Pope Francis answered questions about whether the Holy See would be ready to act as a mediator to avoid a civil war in Venezuela, the problem of the sexual abuse of nuns by clergy in the Catholic Church and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The following text is based on a translation by a group of English-speaking journalists on the plane, including the author, and could be subject to modification when the Vatican provides an official text.

Is the Vatican ready to mediate to avoid a civil war in Venezuela?

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Referring to the fact that Venezuela appears to be on the brink of a civil war, a Spanish-speaking journalist recalled that decades ago, the Holy See mediated a peaceful solution to the conflict between Argentina and Chile when the two countries were on the brink of war and asked the pope whether the Holy See is ready to engage in a similar mediation to avoid a civil war in Venezuela.

Pope Francis responded by acknowledging that the Holy See’s intervention under John Paul II in the Argentina-Chile conflict “was a very courageous act that avoided a war that was about to break out.” But he pointed out that “there are the little steps” that must be taken before such an intervention, and “the last [step] is mediation.” He said that in all diplomacy there are “little initial steps or facilitators” that are the result of “the closeness of one to the other, working to start a possible dialogue.”

If both Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó ask for the Holy See’s mediation, the pope said, “we are open to this.”

“One does this in diplomacy,” Francis said and, perhaps hinting that the Holy See was already taking such steps in Venezuela, added, “I believe my secretary of state could explainall the different steps it is possible to do.”

He confirmed that before his trip to Abu Dhabi “a letter had arrived, a diplomatic dossier from [Venezuela’s president Nicolás] Maduro.” But, he added, “I still have not read this letter.”

“We can see what can be done,” Francis said. “It is necessary [to act].” But he emphasized that “the initial conditions” for the Holy See’s intervention “are that both sides need to ask for it.” If both Mr. Maduro and Juan Guaidó, the president of the national assembly who has declared himself the interim president of the country, ask for such mediation, the pope said, “we are open to this.”

Pope Francis said that “it is the same when there is a problem between husband and wife and they go to the parish priest. One either wants it or doesn’t want it, but always it must be requested or wanted by both of the parties. This is the secret.”

The sexual abuse of nuns by Catholic clergy

A journalist drew Pope Francis’ attention to the fact that last week “Women Church World,” a monthly magazine distributed alongside the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, published an article on the sexual abuse of nuns by clergy in the Catholic Church. In November, the International Union of Women Religious Superiors condemned such abuse and vowed to help sisters report it and seek justice. Given that in a few weeks the Vatican will hold a meeting on the abuse of minors by clergy, the pope was asked, “Can we expect the Holy See to do something also about this other problem, maybe with a document, guidelines?”

“It’s true,” Pope Francis acknowledged. “It is a problem. But let me backtrack [a little].” He said: “The mistreatment of women is a problem. I would dare to say that humanity has not yet matured. Women are [considered] second class, and it starts from there. No? It is a cultural problem, which eventually even leads to the killing of women.” Indeed, he said, “there are countries where the mistreatment of women leads all the way to the killing of women.”

“The mistreatment of women is a problem. I would dare to say that humanity has not yet matured.”

He admitted: “It’s true [that] in the church there have also been some clerics [who abused religious women], and in some cultures more strongly than in others. It’s not something that everyone does, but there have been priests and even bishops who have done what you say.”

“And I think it is still taking place,” the pope said, “because it’s not as though the moment you have become aware of something that it goes away. The thing continues.”

Francis then revealed, “We’ve been working on this for some time. We have suspended some clerics and sent some others away over this.” Moreover, without identifying whom he was referring to, he said, “I don’t know whether the trial on this is over. [We have] dissolved a few female religious orders which were very much tied to this.”

Pope Francis remarked, “I can’t say this doesn’t happen in my house. It’s true.” He asked, “Should something more be done?” and answered with a categorical “yes.”

“Do we have the will [to do more]?” he asked. He responded in the affirmative “yes.” “But it’s a path that we have been [working] on,” Francis added.

The Catholic Church owes much to the “courage" of then-Pope Benedict XVI for beginning to tackle the problem, Pope Francis told reporters. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger tried to investigate a congregation where women were allegedly being abused, he said, but the investigation was blocked.

Pope Francis did not provide more details but said that as soon as Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict, he called for the files he had compiled and began again.

The now-retired pope, he said, dissolved a congregation “because the slavery of women, including sexual slavery, had become part of it.”

Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, said the dissolved congregation was the Sisters of Israel and St. John; he would not provide information about who initially blocked then-Cardinal Ratzinger's investigation.

After restating that “the problem exists,” especially in new orders and in certain regions of the world, Pope Francis concluded: “Pray that we can go forward. I want to go forward. We are working on it.”

The war in Yemen

As for Yemen, where millions of people risk starvation because of four years of war, the pope said he raised the situation there with government officials from the United Arab Emirates, an active member of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting the Houthi armed movement.

When asked if he had received any response to his appeal last Sunday to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Francis said: “I know it is difficult to give an opinion after two days and after having spoken on the subject with a few people. But I can say that I found goodwill for starting the processes of peace. This I found. It was the common denominator among those with whom I have spoken to about the war-like situations. You mentioned that [situation] of Yemen, I have found goodwill for starting processes of peace.”

Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
PHYLLIS ZAGANO
2 months 2 weeks ago

https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2019/01/29/vatican-doctrinal-official-steps-down-amid-investigation-of-sexual-advances/

Martha ST Onge
2 months 2 weeks ago

The International Catholic News Weekly had a more detailed article. "The sexual abuse of nuns by priests and the resulting “scandal” of religious sisters having abortions or giving birth to children not recognised by their fathers has been condemned in an article in the Vatican’s women’s magazine, published on Friday (1 February)." https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/11319/vatican-women-s-magazine-condemns-sexual-abuse-of-nuns-by-priests

Martha ST Onge
2 months 2 weeks ago

"In September 2018, women religious in India made global headlines when they staged a public protest; marching to the High Court in Kerala to demand the arrest of a bishop alleged to have raped a nun 13 times over two years. The nun first reported the alleged rape to the church a year earlier, only to receive no response. When she filed a complaint to the police in June 2018, the police did not take action for 70 days, causing the nuns to stage the protest, the first by religious sisters in the country.

“It seems police are reluctant to take action due to pressure. Church and police both let us down”, one of the religious sisters protesting told news outlets."

Mary Reeves
2 months 2 weeks ago

I have a friend who was a religisgious sister in Africa who was raped by a priest...her trauma has created many lifelong problems for her. It is hopeful that there is no longer denial at the highest levels.

Mary Reeves
2 months 2 weeks ago

I have a friend who was a religisgious sister in Africa who was raped by a priest...her trauma has created many lifelong problems for her. It is hopeful that there is no longer denial at the highest levels.

Mary Reeves
2 months 2 weeks ago

I have a friend who was a religisgious sister in Africa who was raped by a priest...her trauma has created many lifelong problems for her. It is hopeful that there is no longer denial at the highest levels.

Mary Reeves
2 months 2 weeks ago

I have a friend who was a religisgious sister in Africa who was raped by a priest...her trauma has created many lifelong problems for her. It is hopeful that there is no longer denial at the highest levels.

Mary Reeves
2 months 2 weeks ago

I have a friend who was a religisgious sister in Africa who was raped by a priest...her trauma has created many lifelong problems for her. It is hopeful that there is no longer denial at the highest levels.

bill halpin
2 months 2 weeks ago

"I would dare to say that humanity has not yet matured."
Surely, somewhere, there is an administrative office, whose chief executive, in possession of moral guidelines, best thinking of reputable academics, prayerful faithful, spiritual counsellors, and devoted laity -- somewhere there exists the harrowing and courageous leadership to bring into line the knowingly unethical, the cynically weak, and the blatantly power hungry -- so as to protect women and children, and to discipline, censure, and remove those responsible for the degradation of what we long to see as the Church, the Body of Christ. What a mature moment and movement that would be!

Molly Roach
2 months 2 weeks ago

"The mistreatment of women is a problem." Is that as good as it gets in assessing this situation? Really??

Vincent Gaglione
2 months 2 weeks ago

One surmises that the sexual and misogynistic abuse of nuns by clergy, like the sexual abuse of children, has been regarded for too long more as a failure in sin than a crime against the Church and civil society. It is appalling that the situations alluded to by the Pope have been and are longstanding scandals. Every seminarian, deacon, priest and Bishop, in my opinion, should have been subjected to the most egregious punishment of the Church for these crimes – excommunication and removal from clerical status and position. The lack of information on the subject, with no hint of what I just called for, only makes it seem that the Church has mishandled another set of crimes totally inappropriately. Clerical status gives no one refuge from accountability and justice, either in civil society or in the Church.

And now the pews empty a little bit more and the conservative Catholics will rail even louder about the Pope who speaks truthfully.

Tim Donovan
2 months 2 weeks ago

A priest who taught me in high school raped a minor teen boy. I was surprised and appalled when I heard the news. Fortunately, the priest was imprisoned for the crime. I agree that the Church must do more to investigate the crisis of clergy at different levels who have raped minors or nuns. Such priests (and clergy of higher levels in the hierarchy) must be excommunicated, laicized, and turned over to the police for prosecution and prison if found guilty. I believe that Pope Francis has fairly recently also called for seminaries to do their best to ensure that emotionally immature men aren't admitted to the seminary. I do believe that while this is a huge crisis, that hopefully the upcoming meeting of bishops will have enough holy men of integrity who will come up with solutions to the crisis. Sadly, this will undoubtedly take time. I do believe that the evidence has shown that the great majority of our priests are faithful to their vows of celibacy. It is also true that the number of Catholics who regularly attend Mass has declined quite a bit in recent years, especially among younger Catholics. However, I understand that surveys of Americans of different Christian denominations (and other religions as well--I'm frankly not sure) show that an increasing number of people identify as being "nones." That is, unaffiliated with any particular religion. Also, I must respectfully disagree with your use of the term "conservative." I don't believe that the use of such political terms is useful or accurate. Although one may be a Catholic and not agree with everything that the Pope--Pope Francis or any successor of St. Peter-- teaches, the real issue is whether or not one is orthodox or not. To end ( I apologize for my lengthy post) I with due modesty consider myself to be a generally faithful Catholic. I do go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation each month, and have for about one year. I also believe that one can be a member of any political party (I'm a former Democrat of more than 30 years--I'm now 56) and be an orthodox Catholic. I'm now a pro-life moderate Republican, who still often agrees with typical policies espoused by Democrats.

Tim Donovan
2 months 2 weeks ago

A priest who taught me in high school raped a minor teen boy. I was surprised and appalled when I heard the news. Fortunately, the priest was imprisoned for the crime. I agree that the Church must do more to investigate the crisis of clergy at different levels who have raped minors or nuns. Such priests (and clergy of higher levels in the hierarchy) must be excommunicated, laicized, and turned over to the police for prosecution and prison if found guilty. I believe that Pope Francis has fairly recently also called for seminaries to do their best to ensure that emotionally immature men aren't admitted to the seminary. I do believe that while this is a huge crisis, that hopefully the upcoming meeting of bishops will have enough holy men of integrity who will come up with solutions to the crisis. Sadly, this will undoubtedly take time. I do believe that the evidence has shown that the great majority of our priests are faithful to their vows of celibacy. It is also true that the number of Catholics who regularly attend Mass has declined quite a bit in recent years, especially among younger Catholics. However, I understand that surveys of Americans of different Christian denominations (and other religions as well--I'm frankly not sure) show that an increasing number of people identify as being "nones." That is, unaffiliated with any particular religion. Also, I must respectfully disagree with your use of the term "conservative." I don't believe that the use of such political terms is useful or accurate. Although one may be a Catholic and not agree with everything that the Pope--Pope Francis or any successor of St. Peter-- teaches, the real issue is whether or not one is orthodox or not. To end ( I apologize for my lengthy post) I with due modesty consider myself to be a generally faithful Catholic. I do go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation each month, and have for about one year. I also believe that one can be a member of any political party (I'm a former Democrat of more than 30 years--I'm now 56) and be an orthodox Catholic. I'm now a pro-life moderate Republican, who still often agrees with typical policies espoused by Democrats.

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