By Courtney Mares
Catholic News Agency
February 2, 2022
VATICAN— Pope Francis told religious sisters’ to fight back when they are treated unfairly or “reduced to servitude” by men of the Church.
“I encourage all consecrated women to discern and choose what is best for their mission in the face of the world’s challenges that we’re experiencing,” Pope Francis said in a video message on Feb. 1.
“I invite them to fight when, in some cases, they are treated unfairly, even within the Church; when they serve so much that they are reduced to servitude —at times, by men of the Church,” the pope said.
Pope Francis has asked Catholics to pray in a particular way in the month of February for religious sisters and consecrated women.
In his video message, the pope did not provide any more context for his comments on the mistreatment of religious sisters.
A book published in November 2021 in Italian entitled “The Veil of Silence: Abuses, Violence, Frustrations in Women’s Religious Life” by Salvatore Cernuzio, a journalist for the Vatican’s news service, detailed the experience of religious sisters who recounted “abuse of power” within the convent – including a situation in which a sister’s report that a priest had attempted to molest her was brushed aside by a mother superior.
The pope mentioned in a speech in December that he had received a copy of the book by Cernuzio on “the everyday abuses that hurt the strength of the vocation.”
In his video message, Pope Francis encouraged religious sisters not to be discouraged, but to “keep making God’s goodness known” through apostolic works and the witness of their consecration.
“Let us pray for religious sisters and consecrated women, thanking them for their mission and their courage; may they continue to find new responses to the challenges of our times,” the pope said.
There are more than 630,000 women religious throughout the world, according to Fides, the news agency of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
Religious sisters around the world serve in the areas of education, health, interreligious dialogue, conflict resolution, the pro-life movement, social work, care for the elderly, and in service to victims of human trafficking, among other things.
“What would the Church be without religious sisters and consecrated laywomen? The Church cannot be understood without them,” Pope Francis said.
The pope’s video was made in collaboration with the International Union of Superiors General, an organization based in Rome which connects more than 1,900 religious orders to each other.
“I exhort them to keep working and to have an impact with the poor, with the marginalized, with all those who are enslaved by traffickers; I especially ask them to make an impact on this,” he said.
“And let us pray that they may show the beauty of God’s love and compassion as catechists, theologians, and spiritual guides.”