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There is need to have a policy or policies in place so that those in positions of authority are prepared. A pro-active response ensures that those responsible have some control of situations which have potential for public scandal.



In the light of problems that can arise in Rome, we recommend that

  • visiting residences for student Sisters be contacted and consulted about current problems and challenges
  • further residences be found for Sister Students in Rome (two might be considered, one for Asians and one for Africans)
  • religious congregations be asked to collaborate in this venture, two or three staffing it for a number of years.

At the present time, some Congregations are seeking alternative used of their large generalate buildings. It may be possible to find one within walking distance of Regina Mundi and other places of study. The organizers of such a house would work in partnership with the President and Directresses of Regina Mundi and with Superiors of Sister-students before and during their studies. There would be clear ground rules with regard to use of free time, pocket money, travel expenses, etc.

In such a house, Sisters would be:

  • given encouragement and help especially with study skills
  • expected to participate in a communal life
  • given offered opportunities for counseling on personal, spiritual and academic development
  • expected to follow the rules of the house.

Financial Support

The House of Studies (or the Students in them) would be subsidized in the same way as clerical students are subsidized.

2. Suggested action to be taken by Major Superiors of Religious Women to meet problems arising outside Rome

2.1 Prevention of Problems

Solid initial emphasis would include emphasis on

Development of the person

  • Self-esteem, human dignity, personal authority and responsibility

Meaning of Chastity/Celibacy

  • The Vow of chastity/celibacy is more than not marrying
  • Canonical norms and sanctions connected with failures in chastity/celibacy
  • Understanding of the implications of the vow of poverty in relation to grating sexual favors in return for financial support or success in studies
  • Respect for cultural expectations regarding fertility balanced with the counter-cultural Gospel challenges of the vow of chastity/celibacy
  • Education of parents and families to understand the meaning of Consecrated Life and its implications for the continuation of the family.
  • Community life presented as the bulwark of chastity/celibacy
  • Skills training to face and resolve conflict in community living
  • AIDS education – how AIDS is passed on; attitudes to those who contract AIDS; facts about nursing those with AIDS;

On-going formation would ensure

  • On-going education on the rights and dignity of the human person
  • Continuous education regarding the vows and community life as the woman matures
  • Special preparation and care taken during periods of study when individuals are living out of community
  • An understanding that living the vows brings its own challenges as the years pass
  • Meaning of friendship between the sexes; examples taken from the history of the Church; the friendship of the saints and present day abuse cases
  • Good example of formators and support of other experienced religious
  • Behavioral norms regarding dress, use of freedom, use of telephone, letter-writing, spending time alone with male companions
  • Openness with Superiors and spiritual directors
  • Witness of community to healing and reconciliation
  • Further education in skills for conflict resolution
  • On-going education about AIDS

2.2 Response to Problems when they arise

Major Religious Superiors to have a policy in place which indicates clearly who has the authority to deal with the situation e.g. which level of Major Superior, general or provincial. It should also be clear when the local Superior has authority to act in emergencies. This policy will also include the following points:



N.B. Substantial proof is required before the process of communication begins with the Sister

  • Confidentiality to be assured but not secrecy
  • Use of Clear and direct language, while taking into account differing cultural patterns of communication
  • Understanding that full written records will be kept
  • Religious Superior may choose to invite another person to be present to facilitate the interview
  • The Sister may also be accompanied by a person of her choice, preferably another Sister


  • Open though confidential information to the Sister’s community and province and other people as appropriate e.g. colleagues, co-workers, while sensitive to the issue of rumor-control
  • Sensitivity in dealing with the family
  • Encouragement of charity and compassion in all communications


If it has been decided that direct contact with the other party involved is possible and advisable, an action plan should be in place eg.

  • Religious Superior accompanied by one other Sister or trusted person to meet with the other person involved
  • Request that he inform his Bishop or major Superior
  • Nevertheless indicate that the Major Superior will be acquainting the Bishop or Major Superior with the facts in her possession
  • Indicate to the person and/or the Bishop expectations with regard to financial and other responsibilities in the case of paternity or public scandal

2.2 Communication with the Bishop or Major Superior of the Other Party

The Major Religious Superior should make contact with the Bishop or Major Superior immediately in the case of public scandal. Should the case be in need of further investigation, the Religious Superior should wait until she has a reasonable amount of information to convince her that such contact is required.


Before taking action, all accusations and information should be carefully investigated and weighed. Speculations and assumptions do not prove guilt.

  • The Major Superior and her Council will decide whether the Sister is to be removed totally from the situation
  • Community will take responsibility for outcomes and provide trauma counseling, medical care, pre and post-natal care if necessary
  • Counsellors and medical and legal personnel will be consulted as policy is being developed
  • Names of these and other professional people will be available when required
  • Clarity about constitution and canonical aspects eg What would constitute reasons for dismissal? Cf. Canon 696, Canon 1398 and Canon 1324

It has also been suggested that Religious Congregations begin to train African Sisters as lawyers to deal with problems of sexual abuse and violence.

3. Policies to be developed by Male Religious Congregations

Presumable these follow the same or similar lines to those outlined for Women Religious.

4. Diocesan Policy

In the spirit of dialogue and collaboration advocated by Mutuae Relationes, we recommend that Bishops Conferences be encouraged to develop guidelines to deal with the sexual abuse of Religious Women.

4.1. These guidelines would be developed in consultation with:

  • Conferences of Major Religious Superiors of Women in their country/diocese.
  • Conferences of Bishops in other countries where sexual abuse policies have been developed and implemented in recent years.

4.2. We also recommend that

Such policies be made known to the priests of the diocese and to the Conference of Major Religious Superiors both men and women.

4.3. Formation of Priests

Seminary training should include besides emphasis on the meaning of celibacy for the priests

  • Understanding the Vows made by Religious, especially the meaning of chastity/celibacy
  • Input from women religious during seminary training
  • The scope and limitations of friendship between priests and women
  • Understanding of charism of Religious Congregations
  • Education on Aids
  • Need for Religious women to receive just payment for their services in a diocese

4.4 Formation of Religious Women in Diocesan Congregations

Having noted the caveat that Institutes should not be “imprudently brought into being,” and that “once established, these Institutes are to be helped in acquiring juridical status and becoming autonomous in the management both of their own works and of their respective sources of income”, we exhort Bishops to ensure solid formation as well as spiritual and financial support for diocesan congregations of women where these are already established.

Sister Ellen Gielty, S.N.D. November, 1998

National Catholic Reporter, Posted April 9, 2001