‘The Veil Of Silence’ – New Book By Journalist Salvatore Cernuzio

Featuring Preface of Sr. Nathalie Becquart, Work Draws Attention to Abuses, Violence, Frustration in Feminine Religious Life

Pope with Religious - Copyright: Vatican Media
Pope with Religious - Copyright: Vatican Media

‘The Veil of Silence,’ by Italian journalist, Salvatore Cernuzio, a new book drawing attention to abuses, violence, and frustration in the feminine religious life, and in particular the ‘everyday’ often overlooked abuses, is receiving attention worldwide. Even Pope Francis cited it this December when warning against the tragedies of abuses of authority and power.

While the book has been published with Italy’s prestigious publisher San Paolo, this text–whose preface is penned by Sr. Nathalie Becquart, the French Xavierian Sister who was appointed by Pope as Under-Secretary to the General Secretariat of the Synod, is set to be published in other languages, including in English, by an American publisher, in due course.

A Tribute to Authentic Testimony, But in ‘Complete Anonymity’

“I want to pay tribute to these women who have accepted, courageously, to talk and to give their authentic testimony,” says Sr. Becquart in her preface. “We must listen to them, hear them and be aware that consecrated life, in its diversity, as other ecclesial realities, can generate the best or the worst.”

Cernuzio, father of four, and journalist at Vatican News, has been covering the Vatican more than a decade.

In this book, he brings to light various abuses, in orders, convents and institutes, with one disturbing, but not at all surprising condition, with each and every case across the globe–that the 11 sisters whose stories the author shares, remain under ‘complete anonymity.’

Depression, You Don’t Pray Enough

While there is one story of a Sister Aleksandra, who speaks of being abused by a priest and how she was told she must have provoked him, most of the stories deal with more day to day types of abuse, and trying to control sisters’ every move. A great problem also stems from when mother superiors in the convents stay in charge for very long periods of time.

Cernuzio tells stories that even delineate how sisters are abused when expressing depression, and are told that they are not praying enough. The Vatican author also illustrates racism, when one sister says how African sisters were always asked to shovel the snow in Minnesota because they were young and strong, while on the other hand, the white sisters there of the same age, were never asked to do the same. She also expresses she was not listened to during meetings, admitting that this treatment toward her was because she was “foreign, or worse, African.”

The sisters also tell Cernuzio about the shame they experience, when needing to ask for permission to use the bathroom, or to use feminine products when they had their menstrual cycle.

You Have to Suffer for Jesus

When ‘Therese,’ tells Cernuzio how she asked to not have to perform physically challenging tasks because she had a bad back condition, she was told “You have to suffer for Jesus.”

In an interview, Cernuzio explained his inspiration for writing the book was a meeting he had with a friend who had changed, after their experience entering and then leaving a cloistered monastery. The author also says he became more interested in the theme when the L’Osservatore Romano‘s monthly women’s insert Donne, Chiesa, Mondo, published an interview with Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the Vatican’s Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Religious Life, where he discussed that Pope Francis wished to established a residence to help former religious women, and when the Jesuit magazine, La Civiltà Cattolica, published Fr. Giovanni Cucci’s investigation of the abuse of conscience and power in women’s communities.

“There, I asked myself how many women religious were now on the street and perhaps needed to speak out,” Cernuzio expressed.

Taking to heart the many times Pope Francis has called for transparency, the author brings to focus what he has discovered to be a “serious internal problem in feminine consecrated life,” namely those of “abuses of power, of conscience or sexual within orders, convents and institutes, that lead women and girls to extinguish the fire of their vocation and abandon the religious course undertaken, even after years.”

The volume gathers testimonies of women worldwide and of different ages that, after years of silence, out of fear or because of strong psychological pressure, have decided to have their voice heard, in order to be able to help those that have not yet had the courage to react. A “veil,” as that removed from one’s head, which now falls to reveals stories that would otherwise be hidden.

Climate of Fear, Greatest Obstacle to Reform

It brings to the forefront the religious sisters or former religious sisters who are about to leave or have already left what for years was their “home.”

They candidly tell what they have endured, including “mobbing, blackmail, manipulations, discriminations based on nationality, violations of the internal forum, namely of secrets of their conscience, underestimated health problems or used as pretext for marginalization.”

The book also “offers points on ways for a ‘rebirth,’ on the instruments of Canon Law or of psychotherapy in support and protection of the consecrated women or on the initiatives within the Church that help these women to take their life in hand again and to go forward, sometimes beginning the religious path again.”

Yet, Salvatore Cernuzio, is aware of how hard this reality is for these women. While he says that perhaps when an Italian nun has experienced these issues and had to leave her convent or the sisterhood, she may be welcomed back by her family, he warns this is not the case for many. The author laments that for those sisters from other countries who have traveled abroad with religious visas, they find themselves in desperate and problematic situations.

The “most dangerous and challenging obstacle to possible reform efforts,” Salvatore Cernuzio admits, “is the climate of fear.”

The 208-page text, published before the Christmas holidays, costs 20 Euros and can be bought in bookstores or online.