Vatican, Costa Rica, France: #MeToo And The Sound Of Broken Silence

Pope Francis in Vatican City on Feb. 6
Pope Francis in Vatican City on Feb. 6
Benjamin Witte


The #MeToo movement was, above all, a collective "breaking of the silence" that shifted the longstanding balance of power on the question of sexual misconduct, particularly in the professional world.

Many have noted that what became a collective raising of (mostly female) voices may have required the accusations of a few Hollywood movie stars to launch the movement that, even just this week, continues to reverberate everywhere from the Vatican to France to Costa Rica.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis added his to the chorus of voices speaking out against sexual misconduct by acknowledging, for the first time, the sexual abuse (by members of the clergy) of women who are in many ways the epitome of silent servitude: Catholic nuns.

"It is true ... there have been priests and even bishops who have done this," Francis told an on-board reporter while flying from Abu Dhabi to Rome.

The remarks follow publication of a recent article in Women Church World, a Vatican magazine, alleging that Catholic clerics have sexually abused and even impregnated nuns, who in some cases were forced to have abortions. The abuse was hidden, again, by a wall of silence: Nuns kept quiet, reportedly, out of fear that they or their orders would face retaliation from the ruling male clergy.

That fear of exposure also took center stage Tuesday in Paris, where six women connected with France's Green political party EELV gathered in a courtroom to detail years of accusations against former EELV party leader Denis Baupin.

Back then there was less #MeToo.

Among those providing testimony was a former spokeswoman for the party, Sandrine Rousseau, who testified that in 2011, Baupin pinned her against a wall and touched her breasts. As French daily Le Monde reported, the other accusers shared similar stories of feeling too isolated and intimidated, in the past, to go public.

"Back then there was less #MeToo," said Rousseau, remembering the backlash faced by French writer Tristane Banon when she accused prominent politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempting to rape her.

In Central America, in the meantime, a woman is speaking out against a particularly esteemed political figure: Nobel laureate and former Costa Rican leader Oscar Arias, who twice held the presidency (1986-1990, 2006-2010).

Activist and doctor Alexandra Arce von Herold told prosecutors on Monday that in December of 2014, Arias sexually assaulted her in his home, where she had gone to deliver some documents: "He grabbed me from behind and touched my breasts," the Costa Rican daily La Nación quoted the accuser as saying. "I told him no, and reminded him that he was married. That was my no. It was the only thing I could think to say." Arias, through a statement submitted by his lawyer, denies any wrongdoing, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Sexual violence did not begin or end with the accusations first launched 16 months ago against movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Centuries of forced silence are not over yet either. Still, the #MeToo movement has already changed the world in ways that no Hollywood movie ever has.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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