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Religious sister severely beaten up and sexually assaulted in Colombia

The monastery of a Colombian congregation on the outskirts of Medellín named Teresitas Contemplativas del Santísimo (Contemplative Thérèses of the Sacred Sacrament) is seen in an undated photo. One of the congregation's nuns was found brutally attacked and sexually assaulted late Jan. 22, 2024, which spurred outrage in the Colombian church. The nuns live a secluded life and the access to the monastery is restricted. (OSV News photo/courtesy Instagram account of Teresitas Contemplativas del Santísimo congregation)

(OSV News) — The brutal aggression and sexual assault of a nun on the outskirts of Medellín, the capital of Colombia’s mountainous Antioquia province, has spurred outrage in the Colombian church, which is now demanding a full investigation into the attack and lamented the frequent acts of violence against women in the South American country.

The horror of the religious community began the evening of Jan. 22 when a 31-year-old nun, whose name has not been released, failed to come to the refectory for dinner, and her colleagues went to look for her on the property of their monastery in the rural zone of Medellín, one of the largest Colombian cities. 

After almost an hour of searching, worried by a lone shoe left in the area, they found the sister in the woods near a ravine close to their house. She had been stripped of her habit, had her neck and hands tied with a chain, was disoriented and exhibited several signs of assault, including of a sexual nature.

The criminals also stole two debit cards she was carrying. The nun was taken to a hospital and is undergoing treatment in an intensive care unit. The medical team confirmed that she was sexually violated. 

On Jan. 25, Medellín authorities announced they had identified two suspects and were trying to find them.

The monastery houses 10 nuns, who are members of a Colombian congregation founded in 1939 by the late Bishop Miguel Ángel Builes of Santa Rosa de Osos, Colombia, named Teresitas Contemplativas del Santísimo (Contemplative Thérèses of the Blessed Sacrament, a name inspired by St. Thérèse of Lisieux). They live a secluded life and access to the monastery is restricted.

The Conference of Religious of Colombia released a statement Jan. 25, lamenting the tragedy and expressing their full solidarity with the sister and her colleagues.

The letter said that in Colombian society “doors continue to be open for such manifestations of violence against women.” The conference asked the authorities to conduct a serious investigation into the assault, in order to avoid it becoming “one more case that remains unpunished.”

“We consider that any abuse, aggression, mistreatment or form of violence against women is abominable from every point of view, especially, in our case, against religious women,” the document read.

Father Jaime Humberto Henao, who heads the Archdiocese of Medellín’s Social Pastoral Ministry, told OSV News that the city is not the same “powder keg” it used to be in the 1980s, when drug lord Pablo Escobar terrorized the whole region.

“Medellín recovered from that atrocious situation. Now, there is a mafia that exports drugs to Mexico and other criminal activities. But we don’t see the confrontations that were common in the 1980s,” he said.

The rural district where the monastery is located, called San Cristóbal, is mostly occupied by farmers and violent occurrences are not usual, Father Henao said.

He affirmed that there are around 4,500 nuns in Medellín and a “serious incident like that deeply impacts that whole group.”

“Nuns are highly respected and admired in the city. A crime like that is very surprising,” he remarked, adding that the attackers were probably under the influence of drugs.

According to Father Henao, the church and other social organizations must “keep raising awareness against violence, especially violence against women,” he concluded.

Eduardo Campos Lima writes for OSV News from São Paulo.

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