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ROME – Pope Francis Wednesday again issued a vocal condemnation of violence against women, calling it a “scourge” present everywhere.
In his Sept. 22 general audience address, which he spent reflecting on his 3-day visit to Hungary and Slovakia last week, Pope Francis pointed to a Slovakian youth, Blessed Anna Kolesárová, as a model for young people to follow.
Kolesárová, who was beatified in 2018, was known in her village for her piety and as a frequent Mass-goer. She was just 16 when she was killed in 1944 by a Soviet soldier who shot her in front of her father and brother for refusing his sexual advances.
In his remarks, Pope Francis praised Kolesárová as someone “who at the cost of her life defended her own dignity from violence,” calling her “a more timely witness than ever, unfortunately, because violence against women is an open scourge everywhere.”
This is not the first time Pope Francis has spoken out against violence against women, but his words wednesday hit a special chord given several recent and glaring examples of violence against women throughout the world.
Perhaps the most recognized example right now is the tragic case of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old YouTube blogger who was reported missing earlier this month during a summer road trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie.
Petito’s body was discovered in Wyoming over the weekend. Following an autopsy conducted Tuesday, the FBI disclosed that Petito’s death was a homicide, although they did not provide details.
Laundrie, who is a person of interest in the case, refused to speak with police about Petito’s disappearance when her family first reported her missing Sept. 11. Since then, Laundrie also been reported missing, and law enforcement has enlisted the public’s help in trying to locate him.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan women throughout the country have voiced fear that the recent Taliban-takeover of the country means a loss of rights for women.
In remarks during a high-level event on safeguarding international engagement with Afghanistan, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that since the Taliban took control of Kabul last month, women have been “progressively excluded from the public sphere,” and have been barred from appearing in public without a male guardian.
Women also face increasing restrictions on their right to work, with hundreds of women in senior positions banned from returning to their duties, including some 250 women judges who now fear reprisals not only from the Taliban, but from male criminals they put away who have been freed by Taliban forces.
Many of these judges locked up criminals guilty of violence against women, from domestic abuse to rape and even murder.
According to CNN, two female judges were killed in January, before the Taliban’s takeover, and threats against Afghan women have been increasing, with the Taliban going door to door to look for certain government officials and people who cooperated with the United States.
“The Ministry that once promoted women’s rights has been disbanded, and its premises taken over by a Ministry for the propagation of Virtue and the prevention of Vice – an all-male office that will apply guidelines on appropriate dress and behavior,” Bachelet said.
She noted that the Taliban has also dismantled former government offices for women’s affairs, which granted them access to sensitive files, and they have been threatening staff and accusing women’s civil society groups of spreading “anti-Islamic” ideas.
“There is real and palpable fear among Afghan women of a return to the Taliban’s brutal and systemic repression of women and girls during the 1990s,” Bachelet said.
Europe itself has also been struggling with the issue of violence against women, including the pope’s own backyard.
Over the past few months, Italy itself has been grappling with numerous cases of femicide, after several women throughout the country were killed over the summer, most by their partners.
Italy’s interior ministry said last month that of the 186 murders that took place in Italy from January 1 to September 5, 76 of the victims were women.
On Sept. 5, a 27-year-old woman was killed by a neighbor, who entered her apartment through a window and put a towel soaked with bleach into her mouth as a gag, which caused her death from toxic poisoning.
Three days later, on Sept. 8, a 46-year-old woman was stabbed to death by her husband on the day they were due to appear before the court for their separation. A day later, a 60-year-old woman was stabbed to death by her husband.
On Sept. 10, a woman was shot to death in a parking lot in Noventa Vicentina, and on Sept. 13, two women were killed in separate incidents – one, a mother of two children, by her ex-husband a month after their separation, and the second by her husband after a fight.
Pope Francis also highlighted the problem in his February prayer video, saying, “It’s shocking how many women are beaten, insulted, and raped. The various forms of ill-treatment that many women suffer are acts of cowardice and a degradation of all humanity. Of men and of all humanity.”
Last year, during his 2020 homily on New Year’s Day, the pope’s entire speech was a scathing condemnation of violence against women, in which he said, “By how we treat a woman’s body, we can understand our level of humanity.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen