Friday, July 3, 2015
Sister Rita Mboshu: “Some nuns are selling what they gave to the Lord to be able to live”

Translator’s Note: I wanted to make this story available in English because I want to see the Church rigorously address Sister Mboshu Kongo’s accusations of abuse of nuns by male clergy and by their own religious superiors. If we have zero tolerance of child abuse by clergy, we should also have zero tolerance of sexual abuse and harassment of women who have given up everything to serve God and the Church. If Pope Francis is, as he says he is, committed to ending sex trafficking, we should not have nuns being forced to give sexual favors in order to survive. These allegations merit a Vatican inquiry far more than any doctrinal problems among North American nuns ever did.

By Darío Menor (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cristianisme i Justícia Blog
July 2, 2015

In the Mass celebrated at noon on Sunday, May 31st in the Roman basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the readings and petitions were read by Sister Rita Mboshu Kongo, a Congolese woman religious who teaches at the Pontifical Urban University. The celebrant, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, asked her to come to the ambo.

Thus he acknowledged Mboshu Kongo’s remarks during the seminar on the condition of women in the Church that ended with this Eucharist. This nun’s talk in the encounter organized by Donne Chiesa Mondo — the women’s supplement to L’Osservatore Romano that Vida Nueva publishes in Spanish — made an impression on the audience by exposing an often hidden reality — the abuse by the clergy that some African nuns are suffering and the mistreatment to which they are subjected by their own superiors.

“Are you aware of the recent suicide of a Congolese nun near Florence? She had a great love for life. Her death shouldn’t be trivialized by saying that she took her life because she was depressed. We must find the root causes that led her to do this ugly act for the Church and for women,” this woman consecrated to the Daughters of Mary, the Most Holy, Co-Redemptrix told Vida Nueva before starting one of the seminar sessions. The keys for her are in the “lack of training and support.” “She lived in a completely dark tunnel; she suffered alone without spiritual or psychological assistance,” she complained, comparing this case with that of a Latin American woman religious who gave birth to a baby in January in Macerata. “Whose fault is it? That girl’s, who in the end had to leave the convent?”

Lack of resources

Lack of resources is one of the underlying causes of this problem that ends up exploding in cases like those of the two nuns. “There are many poor African orders that send women religious to study without providing the means for their livelihood.” To get ahead, the consecrated women are sometimes pushed into begging. In that situation, “the one who gives you a hand is the boss.”

“Their benefactors make them submit and exploit their bodies. If they have nothing to give in return, they sell what they have — they have to take the part they surrendered to the Lord and trade it in order to live,” Sister Rita denounces, asserting that many women religious have known this reality. They don’t talk about it out of fear. “It’s only dealt with when a problem arises like a pregnant nun. In such cases, the nun is often condemned by throwing her out of the convent. That’s the usual in Africa. The order and the Church don’t know where these poor little ones end up. It’s considered shameful. They’re like the lepers of the Old Testament. No sister wants to speak to them.”

The harassed nuns aren’t able to confront the clergy who demand sexual favors from them in part because they grew up in a culture where women are inferior to men. “It’s thought that you have to obey them. Some priests even use false theological arguments to justify their behavior,” the Congolese instructor denounces. In countries where AIDS is abundant, rapist priests and bishops consider nuns “safer” to avoid catching that disease when they’re having intimate relationships with women.

Some African women religious also suffer abuse when they travel to Rome and other Western capitals to complete their training. “Sometimes they send them to Europe without scholarships. When they arrive, they have to find some way to support themselves and that’s when they’re lost.”

The greatest abandonment often happens when the bishop or priest who founded the diocesan order to which the woman religious belongs, dies. These small institutes have proliferated in Africa. The nuns are then left without a protector or a plan and sometimes end up on the street. “Behind some of these entities, there’s no charism or a calling of the Holy Spirit, just the willingness to try to solve a specific problem. They’re created without homes, without means and almost without prayer books. Nobody asks how these nuns are going to live or what training they’re going to get.”

Confused and without identity

To this Donne Chiesa Mondo contributor [Mboshu Kongo was appointed to the publication’s editorial board in March 2015], these local orders are as objectionable as institutes from other countries who come to Africa to “fish” for vocations. “Sometimes they’re not going to underdeveloped countries to find people interested in religious life to train them. It’s done to solve problems — they need people to work in schools or asylums they manage. They do that instead of hiring staff.” In the end, the goal is the same as the small local consecrated entities — trying to plug a hole. “Then, some African women religious are doing a thousand things and end up confused and not being clear about their identity.”

The Pontifical Urban University professor says it’s almost impossible to quantify how many nuns have been abused by their benefactors or have been abandoned by their orders, stating her wish for the Church to intervene to help them. “They’re spread throughout the world. Who has ever cared about these women religious? Where are they? What are they doing? We don’t care. The nuns should be the ones seeking the lost sheep, but it’s these nuns who are lost.”

The Church should carry out “concerted action” to reverse this abuse. “Until it faces the suffering of African women religious,” Mboshu Kongo warns, “the Church won’t clarify women’s place within it.”

Returning to the denunciation made by another of the seminar participants, the nun from the Daughters of Mary, the Most Holy, Co-Redemptrix criticized the fact that the tribalism of some African societies has crept into the consecrated life. “In some orders, to elect the superiors, you just vote for someone who’s from your ethnic background. There are also some tribes that are considered inferior, so even if there are trained nuns belonging to these tribes who would be worthy to lead orders, they’re never elected.”

This phenomenon that exists in various African countries comes to the point that the superior makes the women religious who supported another candidate, “suffer.” Tribalism, says Sister Rita, has become exacerbated in recent years. “Now there’s no longer an effort being made to consider ourselves equal, being that Jesus unites us. Now each one is entering the convent with her own cultural baggage.” This is another problem that also should be addressed by the Church hierarchy and it explains why “so many good women religious get discouraged and end up leaving the convents.”

A theologian among the stoves

Sister Rita Mboshu Kongo is 49 and has an infectious laugh, which spilled over her listener when recounting, half amused and half embarrassed, how she came to become a professor at the Pontifical Urban University, the Roman Atheneum focused on the formation of priests and religious from mission countries. During her student years, Sister Rita combined books and work in the kitchen of Capranica College in Rome, a service her order, the Daughters of Mary, the Most Holy, Co-Redemptrix, has been performing since 1978. “Working in the kitchen with my sisters is part of our apostolate. I always organized myself to have time to study. You don’t have to give up.”

Her doctoral thesis was devoted to how to adapt her institute’s identity to the Congo, since her superior claimed she would return to her country to open a mission there. At the party her Capranica colleagues organized to celebrate her doctorate, she met Lucetta Scaraffia, coordinator of Donne Chiesa Mondo, who suggested working with the publication.

Sister Rita praises the training she has received and believes that therein lies the key to improving the situation of African women religious. “Seminarians do at least eight years of study and nuns, only three. We want more solid training to know the basics of consecrated life and how to live the vows as women.”