There comes news today in the Drogheda Independent initially, of a local nun who, demoralised by years of physical, mental and sexual abuse by priests in her adopted Diocese of Liverpool has decided to leave her order and join the Franciscan Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament which is now part of the Ecumenical Catholic Church, an organisation that is not part of the Roman Catholic Church but which embraces all forms of woebegones cast out by the Roman Church and which have been denied her help in the past. She can now help gay, divorced, lesbian and transexual people, she now recognises married priests and she cannot stay silent any longer on the “bullying and sexual and physical abuse” meted out to her and others over the last few decades by priests of the Diocese.
Mother Maria Francesca, who is 58 and joined her order in Ireland when she was 15, was sexually assaulted and saw other nuns receive similar treatment on numerous occasions but when she complained to the Archbishop of Liverpool she was told to sit down and be quiet. The Archbishop of Liverpool is none other than our old friend from the Salford Diocese, the ex-Bishop, Patrick Kelly. A man renowned for his ability to shut people up by making them sign legal documents and offering large sums of money whenever complaints against priests were made.
Mother Maria Francesca who started up this new order in this new Church some months back with two other nuns has been a nun for 43 years and found it difficult to throw away the love she had for her original Church but realizes things cannot go on as they are. She cannot see the deliverance of the present Church under its present regime and it is only with the likes of the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin and the recently muted priests of the Association of Catholic priests in Ireland being given their head, will the Church succeed. She says that in this modern society there are so many broken people that the Church refuses to help, there needs to be someone who will rise above this negativity and spell it out that all people deserve God if they want him. Nobody should be left out. She knows many young girls, some obviously very vulnerable, who have been made pregnant by the gallivanting priests of Liverpool and made to feel very guilty and therefore quietened by the Church authorities.
Reading all of this sad tale made me start thinking of the very unattractive station these nuns hold in the Catholic Church. These girls are gathered in by the Church at an early age and cloistered into single sex establishments just like the priests, their emotional development stunted but they obviously have natural feelings, like every woman, of their role in life. The monthly ritual of menstruation must remind them of this even if they do get lost in prayer for some of the time.
Their immature emotional development stops them understanding the power of feminism and how they can stand up to men. These men, in the main, also being immaturely emotionally underdeveloped priests who from my experiences of the last few years can persuade these women to be whatever they want them to be.
Of course this problem has been known about for over a thousand years, the Irish Church tried to get a grip on it at the synod of Raith Bressail in Tipperary in 1111, but I do not think they have ever controlled this idea of priests thinking nuns were their chattels and that nuns themselves considered they were vassals of priests.
The situation is ideal for priests, with nuns in enclosed or semi-enclosed environments and thinking of priests as Men of God, it would not take much to offer themselves if the priest demanded. Any mistakes made would easily be covered up by their enclosed lives and any child ensuing from such liaisons being offered for adoption along with many more from the outside world.
One true story comes to mind, true because I knew both parties and the male part of this drama has sworn under oath that it happened. This lady, a nun, we both knew at school was in an order of nuns attached to our school, who were there in a purely domestic role, cooking, cleaning and polishing. Mike Harding, in his beautiful but painfully dark poem of sexual abuse at our school, describes the scene:-
On smooth panelled walls, brass hinges, oh those nuns
Kept it well burnished and well oiled.
Silent sisters with soft cloths
They fluttered down the corridor, silent, holy moths
And all this was going on as young boys were being abused behind closed doors
And still the nuns polished and cleaned
And still the handmaidens of Christ
Worked on to shine the brass and the woodwork
And the silence from the room was as deep as any sea
So the nun in this story was transferred back to her mother house and my friend who was a seminarian by now, visited her convent one weekend unannounced. The nun who was in her 40s was a great friend of his family’s. He was given a comfortable room in the house and a great welcome by the sisters, delighted to have this potential man of God in their presence. My friend was awakened in the early hours by this transferred nun, climbing naked into his comfortable bed.
He said he was totally shocked, never having even kissed a woman previously but this is not the essence of my story. This nun had been at our school for 10 or 15 years, she was in the senior echelons of the resident nuns. Why did she climb uninvited into the young seminarian’s bed. My guess is that this is what she was trained to do. To give succour to demanding priests and in this case probably overdoing the welcome. My school had some 30 priests on the staff in my time, some old but the majority able. The nuns could have been there to meet this obvious demand after their polishing and cleaning had finished. Surely a natural and daily occurrence in the lives of all married women of any parish.
After I heard this story for the first time, I had the usual bar room laugh about the situation but then started thinking how desperately sad the whole situation was. Some of these women being kept as milch cows in confined circumstances awaiting the attentions of lascivious priests, pressing them in order to spill their seed into their vacant holy bodies. It is worse than medieval in its concept, the animals in the field are treated better.
There are stories coming out of America on a weekly basis especially about how nuns out there are trying to empower themselves and how the Pope and his Vatican lackeys are trying to clamp down on these shows of strength. He even put a coven of cardinals on the case to beat these unruly women down. This week I now see that he has issued an apology and said that he had gone too far. I wonder whether he had had his tap stopped.
My thanks go out to Mike Harding for enabling me to publish excerpts of his poetry, my thanks also to Mother Maria Francesca for speaking out and to un-named others who have allowed their experiences be known. If there is an heaven let us all hope we meet there.