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APRIL 10, 2001


Report says clerics chose nuns to avoid AIDS

ROME - The Vatican acknolwedged yesterday a damning report detailing dozens of cases of Roman Catholic priests and missionaries focing nuns to have sex with them, including one case in which 29 nuns in a single diocese became pregnant.

 In some cases, nuns were raped or forced to have abortions.  Others were forced to take the contraceptive pill, said the report, cited in the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.

 Though most of the problems were in Africa, the report indicated similar incidents have taken place in at least 23 countries, including the United States, Ireland, India and Brazil.

 "The problem is known about and restricted to a certain geographical area," said Joaquin Navarr-Valls, the Vatican's chief spokesman.

 "The Holy See is dealing with the issue in collaboration with bishops, the Union of Superiors General [grouping of heads of male religious orders] and the International Union of Superiors General [head sof female religious orders]."

 The report was presented in February 1995, but the Vatican only admitted its contents yesterday, after La Repubblica published details.

 The report was prepared by Maura O'Donohue made specific reference to certain cases, one in which a priest forced a nun to have an abortion, after which she died.  He then officiated at her requiem mass.

 It said some priests in Africa sought out nuns for sex because they were worried about getting AIDS from prostitutes and saw the nuns as a safe alternative.

 In African society, it said, "It is impossible for a woman or an adolescent to refuse a man, espcially an older man and in particular a priest.

 "There are cases in which priests make nuns take the pill ... and there was one case of 20 nuns in one religious community being pregnant at the same time."

 It  said a mother suprerior was continually ignored by the local bishop when she compained that priests in the diocese had made 29 of her nuns pregnant.  The bishop eventually relieved her of her duties, the report said.

 The article in La Repubblica was based on one published by the National Catholic Reporter, a weekly newspaper based in Kansas City, and Adista, a small Italian religious news agency.

 The Vatican had refused to respond to the Reporter's writer.

 Sister O'Donohue presented her report to Martinez Cardinal  Somalo, head of the Vatican's Congregation for Holy Orders.  He ordered a working group from the Congregation to study the problem with Sister O'Donohue.

 Since then, the article said, the Vatican has monitored the situation, making sure bishops were aware of the phenomenon, but no direct action had been taken.

 Mr. Navarro-Valls, in statement, said, "We are working on two fronts, training of people and finding a solution to individual cases."

 "Some negative cannot let us forget the often heroic faith expressed by the large majority of those men and women in religious orders of the clergy."

 The National Catholic Reporter said there are no comprehensive statistics on the sexual abuse of nuns, but the "frequency and consistency of the reports .. point to a problem that needs to be addressed."

 Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, director of Fides, the news agency of the Vatican's missionary arm, said celibacy has always been a struggle for some priests, but he was surprised at the accounts of sexual abuse.

 "I was a missionary for 25 years and I never encountered such a problem," he said.  "Instead, I found priests and nuns who gave themselves wholly to people with leprosy, with AIDS ... priests and nuns who live their love for Christ."

National Post, with files from Reuters