Catholic Women Speak up about Sexual Abuse and Call for Change

Voices of Faith convened an historic event entitled “Overcoming Silence – Women’s Voices in the Abuse Crisis” in Rome on 27th November, 2018 featuring diverse voices of women experts, some of whom have personal experience of clerical abuse in the Catholic Church. Three key recommendations for the February meeting of Presidents of Bishops' Conferences have been formulated as a result of the event.

In her opening address Prof. Cettina Millitello (Italy), called for the Catholic Church to practice “ecclesial honesty” and reflect deeply on the structures of power in the church that perpetuate patriarchy and abuse.

Barbara Dorris (USA), Dr. Rocio Figueroa (Peru/ New Zealand) and Doris Wagner (Germany) shared personal accounts of abuse they suffered and of the resistance that they faced when trying to report what happened to them in their efforts to seek justice. Figueroa, who is a former superior of the women’s branch in the Peruvian Sodalicio lay movement and worked for five years at the Vatican Pontifical Council of Laity, recounted how over a period of years, she discovered a growing number of victims of the Founder and Vicar of the Sodalicio movement. She was labeled as a “trouble-maker” and a “sick woman” when she attempted to report them. Wagner stated that two men who assaulted her as a young sister in the religious community “Spiritual Family The Work” in Rome are still priests, one employed at the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Reflecting on her experience, Wagner argued that one of the key reasons why sexual abuse continues to be widespread in the Catholic Church is the fact that there is "no proper separation of power in the Church."

In a panel discussion moderated by Robert Mickens (editor-in-chief, International La Croix), Virginia Saldanha (India), Mary Hallay-Witte (Germany/Ireland), Barbara Dorris (USA) and Dr. Rocio Figueroa (Peru/ New Zealand) discussed the institutional barriers and possible structural solutions to the global sexual abuse crisis.

Dorris argued that sexual predators exist in all sectors of the society, but where the Catholic Church fails is the cover up that happens after abuse is reported. Figueroa pointed out that just as the problems in dealing with abuse in the Church are structural, so also structurally, women’s voices are silenced as they have no official voice in decision-making in the Church. She further drew attention to clericalism: “The Church is breathing with just one lung – the clergy – and it is suffocating.”

Hallay-Witte who leads prevention efforts at the Hamburg diocese in Germany calls for addressing the question of structural violence in the Church. She appealed to Church officials to listen to victims and invite women experts such as those present at this event to the upcoming meeting of Presidents of Bishops' Conferences. Furthering this point, Saldanha pointed out the need for diversity among the women invited to offical events, such as synods and Vatican meetings, adding that in the future 50% of those making decisions in the Church should be women.

Building on the analysis and experiences of the experts who participated in the event, Voices of Faith calls for urgent action on the following points in connection to the February 2019 meeting of Presidents of Bishops' Conferences in Rome:

1. A complete list of participants, their credentials and the agenda of the meeting to be made public at least six weeks prior to the beginning of the meeting

2. All proceedings and voting on any documents during the meeting is made public in order to facilitate transparency

3. Diverse voices of women survivors and advocates should be invited to participate and be heard at this meeting. Therefore a dedicated time allocation should be given for women's voices, such as those who spoke in Rome on 27th November. Women's voices are crucial to any credible efforts to stop and prevent abuse.


About Voices of Faith

Voices of Faith works towards a prophetic Catholic Church where women's voices count, throughparticipation and leadership on equal footing with men. They initiate campaigns and projects to promote women’s leadership in the Church. To find out more, go to

The full video recording of the event "Overcoming Silence – Women’s Voices in the Abuse Crisis" will be available soon on the Voices of Faith YouTube channel and social media.

For media inquiries for Voices of Faith, please contact

Zuzanna Flisowska

General Manager, Rome


M: +39 351 523 4217