February 7, 2019 Abdul Haqq

Soul Food? Sex Slaves, the Catholic Church & R Kelly

The recent visit of Pope Francis to the Middle East was historic for more than one reason.[1] His decision to reveal details about nuns being subjected to sexual slavery by some priests in the Catholic Church is timely, particularly when considering that not so long ago, the world witnessed the genocide and similar enslavement of Yazidi women and girls in the region at the hands of Daesh (ISIS).[2] Understandably, this  latest revelation has caused uproar among Catholic communities still reeling in shock from previous ones relating to the sexual abuse of thousands of children spanning seven decades.[3]

Before proceeding further, it is necessary at this juncture to inform, or at least remind readers about the vocation of a nun who can be described as: ‘a member of a religious community of women, typically one living under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.[4] In view of the latest revelation, victims have undoubtedly been subjected to circumstances antithetical to the above-mentioned characteristics. In contrast, they have been exposed to irreligious, immoral and unchaste environments where their vows of ‘obedience’ have likely been replaced by coercion, grooming or both.

Silence of the lambs

What makes this revelation even more startling is the common perception of nuns as ascetic, devout servants of the Church being forever polluted by this news.  Although other equally serious controversies have previously besmirched this otherwise pristine image,[5] the thought of subjugated habit-wearing sisters being utilised as sex slaves by priests and bishops is one that is difficult to comprehend.  Unfortunately, and despite protestations from the official representative body for nuns, papal investigations and punitive action continue to fall woefully short of expectations.  The Catholic global organisation of nuns denounced an existing ‘culture of secrecy’ stating:

We condemn those who support the culture of silence and secrecy, often under the guise of ‘protection’ of an institution’s reputation or naming it ‘part of one’s culture’. We advocate for transparent civil and criminal reporting of abuse whether within religious congregations, at the parish or diocesan levels, or in any public arena.[6]

February’s edition of the Vatican magazine entitled, ‘Women Church World’ was the first to publicly reveal this particular scandal and is probably the reason for the pope’s disclosure during his Middle East tour. Having said this, his knowledge regarding the scale of this scandal – as well as that of the Vatican – has been longstanding, dating back to his predecessor, Pope Benedict’s tenure. His defence of Benedict continues to be unwavering:

Pope Benedict had the courage to dissolve a female congregation which was at a certain level, because this level of slavery had entered it – slavery, even to the point of sexual slavery – on the part of clerics or the founder.” [7]

His comments are interesting – worryingly so – as they highlight the very patriarchal methodology of addressing sensitive issues by removing the victims; namely, the ‘female congregation’ on this occasion without taking relevant action against the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes. What happened to the victims? Were they provided with advice and counseling or compensated in any form and relocated to safer, more conducive environments for their careers? And what about the perpetrators? Were they treated similar to their child abusing comrades (although many could well be one in the same culprit) and quietly relocated to other parishes without so much as a slap on the wrist? Why has next to nothing been mentioned about either of their fates? This culture of ‘silence and secrecy’ around priests is arguably as criminal as the abusive acts themselves and Pope Francis should be held accountable for this.

Religiosity or Irreligiosity; that is the question

The muted response from some quarters of society raises even more questions regarding whether crimes committed against women of faith weigh lighter in the scales than those who decide to eschew religion.  One only has to contrast media coverage of this unraveling account with that of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the young Saudi woman who fled her family and life in Saudi Arabia.[8] The primary reason for fleeing was due to her renouncing religion and the family’s subsequent response:

The Saudi teen claims her family became abusive when she renounced Islam.” [9]

Somewhat of a media frenzy ensued as she sought asylum in the West with governments and agencies scrambling to assist her in her plight. Canada stepped in to offer asylum when Australia failed to respond to her very public intention of emigrating there. The Foreign Minister was even present to welcome her upon arrival at the airport; such was the coup of attracting a young Saudi woman who had renounced her faith and fled her homeland:

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland greeted Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun after she landed in Toronto, wearing a skirt, a gray hoodie emblazoned in red with the word “CANADA” and a blue cap with the logo of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).”[10]

It is unlikely a fully veiled Muslim woman, whose attire more resembles a Catholic habit-wearing nun, would have received equal attention in the same circumstances (the exception being her not wanting to renounce her faith). Similar to nuns, such women wishing to adhere – through choice – to their respective faiths are rarely afforded the same degree of attention when compared to those seeking what is celebrated as escaping to newly found liberation. Nevertheless, the fact remains that more needs to be done societally to confront the systemic abuse continuing to plague the Catholic Church. Such criminality should cease being designated to the papacy alone. It has proved increasingly unfit for purpose.

The Pied Piper of R&B

The original legend of the Pied Piper is well known to many, dating back to the Middle Ages. This flamboyantly (‘pied’) dressed character was hired as a rat-catcher by a local town to lure rats away using his magic pipe; however, when its citizens refused to pay him for his services, he used his instrument to lure away children instead…[11]

Kelly’s nickname conjures up an altogether new image following the multiple abuse allegations emanating from the recent 6-part documentary series, ‘Surviving R. Kelly’.[12] Allegations of a sex cult with sex slaves at his beck and call reverberated throughout the series, watched by millions.[13] Surprisingly, and despite the airing of such damaging allegations, online streaming for his music more than doubled to 1.73 million after the final episode on 6th January.[14] His instrument – whatever one perceives it to be in this instance – clearly continues to captivate audiences much in the same way as the legendary medieval character bewitched children.

Conclusion: ‘Salus Animarum’ – Salvation of Souls (or Satiation of them?)

The very concept of “the salvation of the soul” appears to be non grata…for quite nearly 50 years (corresponding, unsurprisingly, to the implementation of Vatican II) — despite the fact that the imperative itself is clearly and unambiguously codified as the supremus lex (the supreme law) in Canon Law 1752:

 “Salus animarum supemus lex esto” — the salvation of souls … must be the supreme law in the Church.”” [15]

The above excerpt is from an article in the Boston Catholic Journal which laments:

Whatever became of this Fundamental Imperative…indeed, the very reason for the establishment and existence of the Church?[16]

Many will argue the Catholic Church has long since lost its way. Indeed, there is ample evidence to support this. Abusing positions of responsibility and trust to satiate acts of debauchery on unassuming, vulnerable victims is something that must be decried using the strongest and most robust mechanisms at our disposal. The demise of morality among the corridors of political and religious power is evident, with little or no effective recourse to address the amount of injustices committed. While the pope obfuscates his executive role by lowering expectations regarding the outcome of a forthcoming Vatican summit intending to address this endemic sexual abuse,[17]another character who previously boasted of it being perfectly normal to assault women by forcibly grabbing their genitalia, remains in office as the 45th president of America.[18] As we continue to make technological advances on the one hand, behavioural tendencies appear to be returning to levels of incivility akin to the dark ages on the other.





[1]BBC News: ‘Pope admits clerical abuse of nuns including sexual slavery’, 6thFebruary 2019: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-47134033

[2]Nations Unies: ‘UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria: ISIS is Committing Genocide against the Yazidis’, 16th June 2016: https://www.ohchr.org/FR/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=20113&LangID=F

[3]Baker, A. H: ‘In the Name of the Father? Endemic Sexual Abuse under the guise of Religion’, 29thAugust 2018:https://abdulhaqqbaker.com/in-the-name-of-the-father-endemic-sexual-abuse-under-the-guise-of-religion/


[5]Subramanian, S: ‘Nuns in Ireland buried babies and children in mass grave’, 4thMarch 2017: https://www.thenational.ae/world/nuns-in-ireland-buried-babies-and-children-in-mass-grave-1.87981

[6]Goa Chronicle: ‘Catholic global organisation of nuns denounce ‘culture of silence and secrecy’ over sexual abuse’, 24thNovember 2018:https://goachronicle.com/catholic-global-organisation-of-nuns-denounce-culture-of-silence-and-secrecy-over-sexual-abuse/

[7]BBC News: ‘Pope admits clerical abuse of nuns including sexual slavery’, 6thFebruary 2019: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-47134033

[8]Fullerton, J & Davidson, H: ‘You saved Rahaf’s life’: online outcry kept ‘terrified’ Saudi woman safe says friend’, The Guardian, 8thJanuary 2019: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/08/rahaf-al-qunun-saudi-woman-under-un-protection-as-australia-urges-asylum-claim

[9]Rodriguez, L: ‘Teen Fleeing Saudi Arabia Is One Step Closer to Receiving Asylum’, Global Citizen, 9thJanuary 2019: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/rahaf-al-qunun-refugee-status-saudi-teen/

[10]The Telegraph: ‘Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun: Saudi teenager ‘very, very happy’ after arriving in Canada’, 12thJanuary 2019: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/01/12/saudi-teenager-fleeing-family-arrives-canada-granted-asylum/


[12]Greene, M: ‘The fallout from ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ was immediate. Will fans renounce him for good this time?’ Chicago Tribune, 25thJanuary 2019: https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/ct-met-r-kelly-documentary-fallout-20190124-story.html



[15]Boston Catholic Journal: ‘The Salvation of Souls’:http://www.boston-catholic-journal.com/salus-animarum-the-salvation-of-souls-the-purpose-of-the-church.htmlast accessed: 7th February 2019.


[17]Reals, T: Pope Francis confirms priests’ abuse of nuns included “sexual slavery”, CBS News, 5thFebruary 2019: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/pope-francis-priests-nuns-sexual-slavery-abuse-saint-jean-order-france/


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