March 07, 2006

Asylum case puts spotlight on nuns' allegations of sex abuse

The Dallas Morning News

10:30 PM CST on Monday, March 6, 2006
By BROOKS EGERTON / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON Pauline Aligwekwe is a 66-year-old woman from a privileged family in Nigeria, fluent in three languages, with master's and doctoral degrees from the Sorbonne.

She worked for many years as a Roman Catholic nun tending to soldiers and prostitutes and refugees, teaching school, writing a book about Africa's experience with Christianity and running a convent, among other things.

On her good days now, you might find her at a temp job in the Dallas suburbs, standing in a mailroom from midnight to 8 a.m. "In the U.S.," as she puts it, "I am nobody."

Dr. Aligwekwe has become a refugee herself, seeking asylum in the United States with an extraordinary argument: that her resistance to a Nigerian bishop's sexual misconduct prompted him to crush her ministry and led to a violent attack on her convent.

Last year, for example, a lawyer for an American bishop's immigration counseling service told federal officials in a court document: "Although there is a long history of clergy sexual abuse of women in Nigeria, including of sisters, Dr. Aligwekwe (to her knowledge) is the first sister to openly and formally discuss and challenge such abuse and she fears being injured or eliminated because of her 'audacity.' " Nigerian police and the Vatican have ignored her pleas for help, the court filing says. Today, her fate rests with a U.S. immigration appeals board, which could rule shortly.

The case personifies the abuse claims of nuns, which received a flurry of international news coverage in 2001 before being overshadowed by the church's child molestation scandal.

Posted by kshaw at March 7, 2006 11:11 AM