Cases of sexual abuse of Catholic nuns by priests in Myanmar that have been covered up for decades with victims choosing not to report the crime in the country’s culturally closed society are just starting to come to light, a spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar.
A significant number of cases have been uncovered, said Rev. Soe Naing, the organization’s information office. We have learned of a couple of cases after 10 years and 15 years.
He did not provide any details about the two cases or about any other reports of abuse.
Like the cases around the world, there are allegations that senior leaders in the Church protected those who committed the abuse, he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. Past mistakes were remedied with a pledge to reform.
The priest also acknowledged that some accusations of sexual abuse have been difficult to investigate.
We have experienced shortcomings in handling the issue, he said. There’s a lack of knowledge in Myanmar about how to address the issue.
Some cases were resolved using old methods, but now the Church has issued instructions about how to address the issue, and we must follow a zero-tolerance policy and take action against those responsible, he said.
Soe Naing said that the Catholic Church in Myanmar is now addressing all form of abuse.
We were instructed to draft a child protection policy not just for children but also for vulnerable adults in Myanmar, he said. We now have ways to protect them.
In recent years, there have been guidelines for addressing the abuse, he said. The Pope himself will instruct senior Church leaders around the world about maintaining a child protection policy during a four-day event that begins on Feb. 24.
Women in general remain unequal to men by way of tradition, custom, and religion in conservative Buddhist-majority Myanmar, as they are in many other Asian countries. As a result, many women who are abused refrain from speaking out or challenging authority.
The nuns’ silence also underscores their second-class status in the Roman Catholic Church, not only in Myanmar, but also elsewhere around the world. Some fear they will not be believed or that they themselves will be punished.
But the #MeToo movement and disclosures of widespread sexual abuse among priests in other countries has emboldened some nuns to speak out about the unwanted touching and kissing, and in some cases rape, that they have endured.
Church’s ‘culture of silence’
The Associated Press, a U.S. news agency, has reported on instances of priests and bishops abusing nuns in Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia, underlining how sisters have been mistreated with near impunity because of the Catholic Church’s power imbalance between female and male clergy.
The reports indicated that the Vatican knew about problem of priests abusing nuns for decades, but did hardly anything to address it or to hold perpetrators accountable.
In November, the Rome-based International Union of Superiors General, which represents more than half a million nuns globally, issued a declaration condemning the verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse of nuns and pledging to help those who had been victimized seek justice.
We condemn those who support the culture of silence and secrecy, often under the guise of ‘protection’ of an institution’s reputation or naming it ‘part of one’s culture,’ the statement said. We advocate for transparent civil and criminal reporting of abuse whether within religious congregations, at the parish or diocesan levels, or in any public arena.
The AP published a report on Wednesday detailing the sexual assault and abuse of nuns in the Catholic Church in Kerala, India, with some cases dating to the 1990s.
It cites the account of a senior nun who defied the culture of silence and accused an influential Catholic bishop of raping her 13 times during a two-year period.
When the bishop denounced the allegation and claimed the nun was blackmailing him, other sisters held public protests calling for his arrest. He was jailed for more than three weeks in October before being released on bail.
Copyright (copyright) 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036