Dr. Regina Franken-Wendelstorf, Press Conference Statement, Rome Italy

Dr. Regina Franken-Wendelstorf, researcher and former member of the third order of the Dominicans.

Statement from Voices of Faith Press Conference

19th February 2019, La Stampa Estera, Rome Italy

My focus is the Istanbul convention especially the Right of sexual self-determination. The right of sexual self-determination is one of the fundamental human rights. Article 36 declares clearly that the women has actively and free to say that she agrees to the sexual intercourse. Key words here are that it must be an actively and free agreement. 

Nevertheless, in each country the legal assessment is different. Cultural and social aspect have a great impact on how governments will transfer this into law. The fact is that in most countries the woman must prove that she is against the intercourse, not only by words but also by showing the man physically that she doesn’t want it.

For a nun or a religious sister this proof is the major difficulty if she wants to file a criminal complaint. I try to concentrate here on two different constraints:

  • The emotional commitment of the victim towards the offender and towards the other religious brothers and sisters within the congregation. All are brothers and sisters in Christ. Abuse of nuns must always be seen as relationship abuse.

  • Hierarchical and sacramental imbalance between the man and the woman. He is the priest and she only a sister. This imbalance continues then she is filing a criminal complaint and has a tremendous impact on her credibility in court.  This effect is even reinforced by the hierarchical imbalance between the offender, his superior and the mother superior. Often the commitment of the superiors is rather towards the rest of the congregation, than towards the victim.  

Already these two points shows how difficult it is for nuns and sisters to defend themselves - first against the rape and then it is difficult to be credible in a court.

The right of sexual self-determination as a fundamental human right is not excepted by the official church. In contrary in many catholic countries, church related NGO’s protested against the right of sexual self-determination and the Istanbul convention. It is seen as heresy and destroying Christian values.

In general rape and sexual humiliation of women is often only seen as an offence against the sixth commandment, abuse of power or as a disregard of confession and it is mostly disciplined by a period of quiet prayer or simply by the transfer to another position.

To change this practise, according to my opinion, the following points are necessary:

  • Full acceptance of the women’s rights of sexual self-determination. Church officials need to except woman as equal with the same fundamental rights. That means to stop the exclusion and degradation of women in the spiritual and sacramental life.

  • The full recognition and acceptance that rape and sexual abuse is a criminal act against the free will and the physical integrity of the woman. That means also the acceptance of the plurality and the diversity of women’s life. 

  • The commitment that sexual abuse includes insulting speeches, exclusion and sexual humiliation. That means we need to initiate a deep and open discussing about the sexual and moral teaching, especially about sexual and moral commandments and prohibitions towards women.

  • A deep and open discussion towards gender equality. Gender equality is not an ideology, it is a goal and a human right.

Nuns, religious sisters and many catholic women have shown that they have the strength, the professional ability and the compassion to help and protect women, children and men all over the world. They should now use these abilities to confront bishops and superiors to overcome the inequality in church. 

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