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Vatican investigating allegations of priests sexually abusing nuns

(VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

The Vatican is investigating allegations by a small Chilean religious order of nuns after some sisters alleged they were sexually abused by priests and mistreated by their superiors.

Is this something new?

The Associated Press called it a new indication that the Holy See is willing to investigate allegations of sexual violence against nuns.

Earlier this year, an investigative report by Chilean national television revealed that a half-dozen current and former nuns have claimed that sisters were thrown out of the order after they publicly denounced the alleged abuse. The controversy came to light during outrage over how the Chilean Catholic hierarchy allegedly covered up decades of sexual abuse of children by priests.

In the television report, the sisters are shown testifying before two Vatican investigators who were sent to Chile by Pope Francis to investigate the churchwide scandal there.

The Vatican's investigation began Wednesday with testimony from current and former sisters and those affiliated with the institute. After the investigation is complete, the Vatican has said it will make whatever changes it deems necessary.

The institute, located in the diocese of Talca, was headed by Bishop Horacio del Carmen Valenzuela Abarca since 1996. Pope Francis removed Valenzuela as bishop in June amid his "cleanup of the Chilean hierarchy," according to the AP. Valenzuela was reportedly trained by "one of Chile's most infamous predator priests, the Rev. Fernando Karadima."

The Vatican has traditionally focused on priests who abused minors. But because of the #MeToo era, adult nuns have become more emboldened to denounce sexual violence from priests and bishops, the report stated.

Over the summer, the AP reported that the Vatican has long known about sexual violence against religious sisters but has not moved to stop it. Church leaders have often downplayed the problem or blamed a nun for seducing a priest after allegations were raised.

As the issue has grown in prominence, the Union of International Superiors issued an "unprecedented statement" that asks nuns to report any abuse to their superiors or to police, the report states. The union represents 500,000 of the world's 660,000 nuns.

The AP previously reported that the Vatican has not said what, if any, safeguards will be put into place or how it will gauge the scope of the problem. It also has not said what is currently being done to punish any offenders and care for victims.

Is the problem widespread?

Reports of sexual violence against nuns have surfaced in Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia, suggesting the problem is global and pervasive, according to the AP.

The problem is partly due to "the universal tradition of sisters' second-class status in the Catholic Church and their ingrained subservience to the men who run it," the report stated.

One last thing…
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