A quarter of a century ago, Irish nun Sister Maura O’Donoghue prepared a report on priests sexually abusing nuns in 22 countries for the Vatican, it was never released.

After the February issue of the Vatican women’s publication “Women Church World” published a report abuse against nuns by priests and other members of the clergy, on February 10, Pope Francis publicly acknowledged the long history of abuse for the first time.

However, 25 years ago Sister O’Donoghue prepared a report for the Vatican documenting numerous cases of abuse internationally, in Botswana, Burundi, Colombia, Ghana, India, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Tonga, Uganda, the United States, Zambia, Zaire and Zimbabwe.

It highlighted instances such as priests asking that nuns be “available” for sex so that they would not risk contracting AIDS from local women, reports the Irish Times, and of priests taking nuns they had impregnated to get abortions.

In one Malawi diocese, 29 nuns became pregnant in 1988, and leaders of the local women’s congregation were dismissed when they tried to complain to the bishop.

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First reports of priests’ sexual abuse of nuns

The report first emerged in 2001. At the time, as the Irish Times reports, the Vatican spokesman Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls acknowledged that the problem was “known” but also insisted that it was “restricted to a certain geographical area,” thought to mean Africa.

Sister O’Donoghue was a member of the Medical Missionaries of Mary and studied medicine at University College Dublin. She spent 45 years as a missionary in African countries, first working in a hospital in Nigeria in 1958. She worked in Ethiopia for 14 years, coordinating the church’s famine relief program there, and led the HIV-AIDS desk of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development starting in 1986.

She returned to Ireland in 2003, where she began to work with survivors of trafficking from Eastern Europe.

Sister O’Donoghue died on May 6, 2015, at the Medical Missionaries of Mary house in Drogheda.

*Originally published in February 2019.