Abuse of authority: the sisters of Bethlehem listening to their victims



With the establishment of a listening cell for possible victims of abuse, it is a new stage experienced by the monastic Family of Bethlehem, of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno. Founded in 1950 under the auspices of Pius XII proclaiming the dogma of the Assumption, the monastic congregation has been encouraged to reform for several years. Following several complaints from former sisters who denounced “A pressure of discernment, an excessive break with the outside world, a culture of guilt, a centralization of power”, a canonical visitation had been requested by the Little Sisters of Bethlehem themselves. Following the investigation carried out in 2015 and 2016, the Dicastery for Consecrated Life suggested, in 2017, adaptations to put an end to what appeared to be abuse of authority, or even spiritual abuse.

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The sisters of Bethlehem then embarked on a “Conversion path”, path that went through “A progressive and painful awareness of the consequences that a conception of authority idealized or based on a poor understanding of monastic obedience had on certain sisters, leading to abuse of authority or conscience and emotional dependence. “ After three years of relative silence, the press release published on January 5 looks back on the work of conversion, even of refoundation, undertaken by the sisters of Bethlehem.

In February 2017, a new prioress general was appointed by the Vatican in the person of Sister Emmanuel, who entered the community of Bethlehem in 1971. Six nuns appointed by Rome formed the permanent council to which were added two apostolic assistants, Father John Quris, priest of the diocese of Angers, and Mother Geneviève Barrière, Benedictine Abbess Emeritus of Jouarre, who had made the apostolic visit. Last November, they urged the congregation to make a public commitment: “The time has come for a clear recognition of the mistakes and mistakes of the past, so that the charism you have received can be fully lived. “

Collection of testimonials

The new team at the head of the Family recognizes, in the press release, having “Became aware of the wounds and traumas that such dysfunctions caused in these sisters, in their self-esteem, their free will, and their relationship of trust in the Church, requiring a slow and difficult reconstruction. “ It is in this sense that an independent listening cell (1) is set up, made up of two psychologists, a Benedictine abbot, a nun, a former magistrate and a trained lawyer. in canon law. Collecting testimonies, the cell will be able to make any recommendations it deems useful, further specifies the permanent council.

The attention paid to the victims goes hand in hand with an in-depth work on the charism and the modes of functioning of the Congregation: “The service of authority matures gradually thanks to the exercise of collegiality. Local councils [des 29 monastères] rediscover their role of consultation and decision-making, in particular for the admission stages and the commitments of the sisters. “ Choosing from “To live in solitude for God”, the sisters of Bethlehem moved away from early Dominican sources to draw more on the rule of Saint Bruno. Living in cells, except for two offices each day, they are kept in silence, under the authority of the prioress.

A next chapter

At the request of Rome, the Family of the Sisters of Bethlehem engaged in the revision of its constitutions, with the help of the Jesuit François-Xavier Dumortier and the Dominican Philippe Toxé. The new text will be submitted to the nuns for approval at the next chapter, which should take place in 2021, during which the prioress general and her council will also be elected. The Bethlehem Family has 550 sisters spread over 29 monasteries located in 15 countries.

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