· Vatican City ·


Independence is freedom against abuse

02 October 2021

It is now clear that the lack of economic independence is the greatest obstacle that prevents women from escaping violent situations.

What happens when “economic dependence” takes the form of a life choice? When it is not the result of oppression, but a conscious decision for a common life, whether through the vow of poverty or that of sobriety and the sharing of goods?

How much and when does the exercise of superior authority, also connected to the vow of obedience, become an abuse of power, even “financial” power, and therefore a form of economic violence?

How much and how does economic dependence become a factor in the failure to report sexual abuse suffered by consecrated women by religious? How much does the economic subjugation of the victim, especially in places of greater economic poverty of origin, affect not only the failure to report, but also as an element of blackmail and coercion on the part of the abuser?

An attempt to answer these questions is being attempted by the women religious, sisters, lawyers, and activists who are dealing with the phenomenon of abuse perpetrated against consecrated women by consecrated men. In the recent provisions introduced with decisiveness by Pope Francis, also received by some Episcopal Conferences (see Guidelines), the category of vulnerable person is identified, which expands the meaning contained in other texts and derived from canonist interpretations so far on crimes against the sixth commandment. In paragraph 2 of Article 1 of the Motu Proprio of March 26, 2019 On the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons, a vulnerable person is defined as:  “any person in a state of infirmity, physical or psychic deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which in fact, even occasionally, limits his or her capacity to understand or will or otherwise resist the offense”.

Are abused consecrated women to be included in this category without this leading to a further debasement?

There are many questions  and which can become the subject of research and in-depth studies, all yet to be written and tested, while treasuring the thoughts and actions of those who paved the way and, above all, to give a voice to those who want to scream out their pain.

Pandora’s Box, which was already cracked by the strength of some brave women, sometimes supported by free superiors, has been broken, prompting a pope to call his predatory “brothers” “wolves”, but the road is very long.

by Grazia Villa
An Advocate for the rights of the person