An Iowa man who says he was molested as a boy by a nun is prodding the largest group of US Catholic sisters to do more to “protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded.”
Steve Theisen and other members of a self-help group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPnetwork.org) are spending much of this week on a sidewalk outside a St. Louis Missouri hotel where Catholic nuns are meeting. SNAP is urging the 900 sisters, here for the annual meeting of the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR), to “act more prudently to prevent future child sex crimes by nuns and more compassionately towards those who have been hurt by past child sex crimes by nuns.”
“Tragically, nuns are moving even more slowly and timidly to deal with child molesters in their midst than bishops are,” said Theisen. “No one knows how many nuns have victimized kids, but no one’s even trying to find out. Nor is anyone really taking any real steps to prevent such devastating crimes in the future.”
According to BishopAccountability.org, there are at least 77 US nuns who have been publicly accused of child sex crimes. SNAP says it has heard from several hundred adult men and women who report having been sexually assaulted as youngsters by nuns.
Since 2004, SNAP has prodded the LCWR to openly address the topic of abuse and cover up by nuns. But the victims say they have been repeatedly rebuffed. So today, SNAP is writing to three US bishops who are taking an oversight role with the nuns, urging them to examine abuse and cover up of child sex crimes by nuns.
“We do this with great sadness and reluctance,” said Barbara Dorris, SNAP’s outreach director. “Most bishops have done a terrible job with abuse. But someone must take responsibility and step in and push the nuns to act more responsibly with children’s safety.”
At least eight times, SNAP has asked to speak to LCWR members at their national conference about nun sexual abuse and to reach out to sexual abuse victims and to seek out abusers within their own organization. Each time, the LCWR has rebuffed the victims, claiming excuses that their organization is “not able to issue directives,” and is only intended to “provide its members with resources, education, and support.” In 2004 a small group of victims met with representatives of LCWR, who issued a statement that expressed solidarity with victims, but still refused to honor the requests made by SNAP. Since that meeting, SNAP leaders have been unable to secure another face-to-face meeting with the LCWR.
“At least 30 US bishops have posted names of predator priests on their websites,” said Dorris. “But as best we can tell, not a single nuns’ group has done so. And bishops have collectively pledged to be ‘open’ about child sex cases and provide therapy for victims. Nuns have not even done this. ”
Monday evening, SNAP held a vigil outside the hotel. Tuesday afternoon, they picketed and hand-delivered a letter to Sr. Patricia Farrell, the LCWR president. And today they plan to picket again, outside the Millennium Hotel, 200 S. Fourth (between Clark & Walnut) in downtown St. Louis where the LCWR is meeting.