A prominent Nigerian nun has blasted the culture of silence in the Catholic Church that has long sought to hide clergy sexual abuse, telling a Vatican summit that transparency and an admission of mistakes is needed to restore trust.
In a powerful speech Saturday, Sister Veronica Openibo told Pope Francis’ gathering of the Catholic hierarchy that African and Asian church leaders must no longer justify their silence about sexual violence by claiming that poverty and conflict are more serious issues for the church.
“This storm will not pass by,” she warned them.
She called for discussion on a host of controversial issues to address the scandal, including lay participation in the selection of bishops, whether seminaries for young boys are really healthy and why elderly abusers aren’t dismissed from the clergy.
“We proclaim the Ten Commandments and parade ourselves as being the custodians of moral standards, values and good behavior in society,” she told the gathering. “Hypocrites at times? Yes! Why did we keep silent for so long?”
Openibo opened the summit’s discussions Saturday, the penultimate day of the meeting. Francis summoned 190 bishops and leaders of religious orders to attend the four-day tutorial in a bid to impress on the Catholic Church at large that sex abuse isn’t just a problem confined to a few countries, but the whole church.
The first two days of the meeting focused on the responsibility of church leaders in tending to their flocks, and how they must be held accountable when they fail to properly protect young people from predator priests. Saturday was dedicated to issues of transparency and breaking the code of silence that kept abuse hidden for so long.
Openibo, the superior of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus religious order, recalled the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” based on the Boston Globe’s prize-winning expose of clergy abuse and cover-up that sparked the explosion of cases coming to light in the U.S. in 2002.
“How could the clerical church have kept silent, covering these atrocities?” she asked. “We must acknowledge that our mediocrity, hypocrisy and complacency have brought us to this disgraceful and scandalous place we find ourselves as a church.”
Openibo praised “Brother Francis” for his honesty in admitting he had erred in an abuse cover-up case in Chile last year. Francis had defended a bishop accused of witnessing and ignoring the abuse of a notorious predator, accusing the victims of “slander.”
Francis called the summit after realizing he had erred in the case, and has since reversed course.
“I admire you, Brother Francis, for taking time as a true Jesuit, to discern and be humble enough to change your mind, to apologize and take action – an example for all of us,” Openibo said.