Abuse by Women Religious (nuns and sisters)

For at least eight years, victims of child molesting nuns and members of SNAP have repeatedly urged America's largest organization of nuns to expose the truth about child sex crimes and cover ups by women religious. But the LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) continues to essentially rebuff us and them.

Now more than ever, since they're being attacked by bishops like we have been (and are being), nuns should be sympathetic to our plight. It grieves us to have to keep prodding them to take long-overdue, simple steps to protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded. But how can we do otherwise?

Contact: Steve Thiesen, Iowa SNAP Director and SNAP Board Member
Phone: 319-231-1663
(abused by Sister Josephine Schmitz, aka ‘Sister Mary Phillip’)


  • 2002 - LCWR refuses to participate in USCCB’s “Policy for the Protection of Children”
  • April 5, 2002 - LCWR issues statement on clerical abuse
  • August 24, 2002 - LCWR National Board issues statement on sexual abuse
  • June 12, 2004 - Nun survivors meet for the first time in Denver at SNAP Conference
  • July 13, 2004 - Hand-delivered to LCWR and USCCB from nun survivors regarding Plan of Hope, Respect, and Open Healing. Also requested nun survivors be allowed to speak at LCWR-CMSM Joint Assembly in Ft. Worth. To date, we received no answer from USCCB.
  • August 5, 2004 - Letter to LCWR from SNAP expressing dismay over their decision not to let us speak
  • August 9, 2004 - E-mail to National Review Board to intervene on our behalf
  • August 13, 2004 - LCWR Press Release: Response of LCWR President Sister Constance Phelps, SCL saying we can’t speak in Ft. Worth
  • August 19 to 22, 2004 - Joint LCWR – CMSM Assembly in Ft. Worth, TX. Nun survivors attempt to attend event but are refused.
  • October 3, 2004 - Meeting with LCWR Leadership in Chicago
  • November 22, 2004 - LCWR letter to SNAP refusing to work with SNAP members who are survivors of sexual abuse committed by nuns and sisters
  • August 2, 2005 - Not allowed to speak at LCWR National Conference in Aneheim, CA; we are present – we delivered letter
  • August 17, 2006 - Not allowed to speak at LCWR National Conference in Atlanta, GA; we are present – we delivered letter
  • August 24, 2007 - LCWR contacts us to meet to talk but LCWR does not provide an agenda after numerous requests; Not allowed to speak at LCWR National Conference in Kansas City
  • September 19, 2007 - LCWR responds to SNAP, denying all five requests
  • August, 2008 - LCWR rebuffs us via letter; SNAP holds night-time vigil
  • October 9, 2008 - SNAP meets with Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious in St. Louis; requests are denied
  • February 23, 2009 - SNAP asks to speak at the LCWR conference in New Orleans
  • March 26, 2009 - LCWR denies all of SNAP's requests
  • August 11, 2009 - Not allowed to speak at LCWR Conference in New Orleans; we deliver letter
  • August 14, 2010 - Not allowed to speak at LCWR Conference in Dallas; we are present
  • August 16, 2011 - LCWR National Conference in Garden Grove, California
  • August 7, 2012 - LCWR National Conference in St Louis; SNAP members deliver letter and hold vigil

Letter sent to bishops:

Aug. 8, 2012

Dear Archbishop Sartain Bishop Blair, Bishop Paprocki

We write you with great sadness and reluctance. Each of you, like most of your colleagues, has done a poor job of dealing with child sex abuse and cover up. Still, each of you have a chance to prod US nuns to do a better job in this regard. For the sake of prevention, healing, openness and justice, we hope you seize this opportunity.

We have little faith in "internal" church "investigations" and reports on clergy sex crimes and cover ups. We have even less faith when they're conducted by bishops or “outside” firms hand-picked and hired by bishops.

Still, something is often better than nothing. That’s the case today with abuse and cover up by nuns. Right now, there's very little known about child sex crimes and cover ups by nuns. No one's apparently trying to learn more. And as best we can tell, no one inside or outside of the nuns’ community is trying to prod them to do a better job of protecting the vulnerable and healing the wounded.

So with considerable reluctance and distrust, we're asking you to expand your “oversight” of the LCWR into what the organization – and America’s religious orders of women- are doing and are not doing regarding child sex crimes and cover ups by nuns.

Why does this matter? Because we believe that

--many abusive nuns have never been exposed or disciplined.

--many who have seen, suspected or hidden their crimes have similarly never been exposed or disciplined

--many who were abused by nuns have coped by essentially denying and mischaracterized the crimes they suffered, and minimizing the impact of those crimes, so they suffer in confusion, denial, isolation, shame and self-blame.

We suspect that fewer nuns molest than priests. (Research suggests that more men are sexual predators.) At the same time, however, that’s just speculation. And regardless of the rates or percentages of abuse, two other facts are important. First, there are more nuns than priests. (55,944 nuns in the US versus 41,406 priests) Second, many more nuns had more access to more kids, largely because they worked and work in schools.

Ultimately, however, the numbers or percentages are not especially relevant. If there are 400 or 4,000 or 40,000 adults who were victimized by nuns in this country, every single one of them deserves help. And if there are 4 or 40 or 400 children who may be victimized in the future by nuns in this country, they need protection.

Again, we take this step with great sadness and reluctance. Everyone knows most nuns don’t commit or conceal child sex crimes. Everyone knows that most nuns do wonderful, selfless work, often to help society’s marginalized.

But we see little or no evidence that nuns – either in or through the LCWR or their individual orders – are in any way, shape or form “trailblazers” in making the church or our society safer from clergy child predators or making substantial contributions to the healing of those who suffer because of clergy child predators.

It’s a painful truth to acknowledge. It’s unusual and unsettling for us to seek your help in dealing with it. But our concern – for the vulnerable and the wounded – and our inability to get the LCWR to be more pro-active, leave us with few other options.

Barbara Dorris, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, 314 503 0003, bdorris@snapnetwork.org

Steve Theisen, Iowa SNAP Director 319-231-1663, ltreggiefan@cs.com

David Clohessy, Director, SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis MO 63143), 314 566 9790 cell (DavidGClohessy@gmail.com



Click HERE to download a .zip archive of correspondence between SNAP and the LCWR, SNAP and LCWR press releases, and other coverage of the groups (4.76 mb)


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  • commented 2015-10-31 13:35:22 -0500
    In 1974 at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda MD I was assaulted / abused by a nun, Sister Daley. She attempted to blackmail me by holding a course grade hostage. It was a one time upsetting incident. Several days after I told the head of the upper school, Sister Gowen, I was ignored. Several months later I was asked to leave the school at end of year. It was only a few years ago that I realized, as I was an excellent student with good grades that Sister Gowen asked me to leave to keep my story quiet. I am thinking that Sister Daley had other victims. This assault changed the course of my life. I was forced to change schools in 11th grade. Stone Ridge is an excellent school with many noted alumni. I am wondering if any one else had any incidents with Sister Daley in the 1970’s or 1980’s or ever? Or Sister Rowen the psychopath who ran the middle school?
  • commented 2015-10-15 17:52:16 -0500
    I have been living for decades, with this and it ruined my life. I was one of 4 boys that was molested by 3 nuns when I was 16, I do not know if there was anymore or not, and this place was a place for troubled youths. Well, that shaped my life and it took me down the road to ruin. I never knew where to go or who to talk to other then the other boys, which at time it was a big proud deal to us. Sister Pat, Sister Kathy, Sister Gertrude. was the 3 nuns that would visit us at night. Some of the details escape me, but not all, and I feel sorry not only for myself but, the others that might have had to endure the things I had to during my time there.
  • commented 2015-10-14 15:06:29 -0500
    I was sexually abused by Sister Helen Phillip, one of the sisters of Notre Dame who taught at St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Southern Pines, North Carolina. I found another one of her victims and we are going to get an attorney and hopefully a settlement.

    Johanna Smith
  • followed this page 2015-09-09 12:25:09 -0500
  • commented 2015-08-21 12:48:35 -0500
    Good luck and courage to all of you
  • commented 2015-02-15 05:15:55 -0600
    Starving children in catholic-run “homes” was the way the nuns enjoyed themselves. The food they gave me was disgusting slop and not much of it. The nuns ate well — I thought gluttony was a sin. You are correct Rita that those still alive should be punished now along with those still doing these horrible deeds. Then they can pay later in that burning lake too.
    Roma Downey from http://healthcareadmin.org/
  • commented 2015-02-06 21:46:40 -0600
    These stories are so sad, makes me cry, and fill ashamed for these poor kids.
  • commented 2015-02-01 23:00:32 -0600
    Revealing the stories should be encouraged by our society, and I am also sorry to hear these stories, but we can’t always indulge in this.
  • commented 2015-01-06 14:19:02 -0600
    Myself Star from http://healthcare-schools.org/healthcare-administration/. I thank you very much for writing this article. Many things have contributed to the decline of nuns in the Catholic church. First I would like to say “Thanks!” to all those who have served. Few people today would know the dedication, the education, and the sacrifice these women made to serve God. When I think “Nun”, I see a teacher, not just of religious education, but of one of the best educations one could get at a parochial school. When I think of Nuns, I think of the nurses who served in the Catholic hospitals caring for patients, whether they were Catholic or not. When I think of Nuns, I think of all the women who gave their lives to fight social injustice, economic injustice in the poorest cities of our nation. They did all that for low pay and very little thanks, if any.
  • commented 2014-12-13 00:05:05 -0600
    Its really unfortunate to see these kind of incidents happening around. With such kind of initiative we are sure the world still is a decent place to live on.

    http://sectstates.net – Business Corporation Search Redefined!
  • commented 2014-12-10 23:05:03 -0600
    After going to Catholic school and seeing how these “liberated” sisters verbally and psychologically bully and abuse anybody who crosses them (so motherly and relational!) , it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that this was going on. I’m willing to bet that the sexual abuse is far worse in some cases than what most priests have done. The Holy Father is right on about the rot and filth in the Church, and I really feel so far we’ve seen only the tip of the iceberg when it comes it.

  • commented 2014-12-10 23:05:02 -0600
    After going to Catholic school and seeing how these “liberated” sisters verbally and psychologically bully and abuse anybody who crosses them (so motherly and relational!) , it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that this was going on. I’m willing to bet that the sexual abuse is far worse in some cases than what most priests have done. The Holy Father is right on about the rot and filth in the Church, and I really feel so far we’ve seen only the tip of the iceberg when it comes it.

  • commented 2014-11-20 15:44:21 -0600
    Joanne Baribeau, your post here gives me courage. I am 63 years old and understand carrying a burden of anger and memories, and admire you tremendously for addressing your story and sharing it here.

    Cait Finnegan
  • commented 2014-11-20 13:38:19 -0600
    I am almost 80 years old, and daily I have passed onto my family the scars of 17 years of abuse at the hands of religious women “doing God’s Will” I have recently viewed two movies that have sparked my indignation, my aging frustration and most of all my anger at my lost childhood. I was only four when placed in the boarding school at Hudson, NH to receive " a good Catholic education" passed on to me in the most abusive, mean spirited, cruel ways until I was 21 years old.
    Back to the films—the Magdalenes-was my first reality that “oh My God, others experienced the same illogical mental sick upbringing I did” “How could I be loved by God when I was not fit to be a grain of sand under His sandals.” I wanted to contact the Director of the film at the time and ask him how he learned so much-could he do more?
    Now comes a Judith Dench film-Philomena. I was spellbound—how brainwashed she was to forgive and forget, not their fault-my anger was on the same level or higher than the author’s anger-Martin Sixsmith. So now once again I am wondering-would he write another book? Stories wouldn’t be the same-but many many New England children were sent to boarding school at a cost of $40 a month, after the depression and during WWII maybe for reasons like parent death, parent illness, parents working, too many children in house, behavior problem or my case (mistress problems in a stated highly regarded Catholic Diocesan business corporation). Worst part of all, I was a tall blond IRISH girl in a french convent and I experienced 17 years of novitiate policy, water filled soup, gruel, near starvation during Lent, while the nuns table was on a stage above us with their special meals because they had spacial needs! And when they were finished we were automatically finished and had to leave the dinnig area even if we hadn’t been served yet-that happened a lot. I was having the devil driven out of me because I was a daughter born out of wedlock and not allowed to be like my Protestant Mother. So my story is different, but the horror, the upbringing, the abuse, the sexual abuse by many, the resulting story is the same as many more out there.

    I am too old to remember every name but all of you who witnessed, suffered, endured fruitless years of counseling to get over your childhood, you could do so much for those suffering now. Get your story out, find someone like Martin Sixsmith who might be your legs to investigate hours and hours of research and explode the story to the world. They were not all saints, it was not the sign of the times (as so many like to describe it)-in industrial New England, boarding schools went along with the religious code of the factory worker. I survived, I am a survivor mostly from sheer anger that kept me going and that is not good, not good for my family nor those around me. Best to get the stories out, all the stories. There was too much hiding going on-in all areas of the Catholic Church.

    Thank you for what you have accomplished so far. Continue with knowledge that you have already helped millions-just please keep going. Maybe some authors will come forward and help get our stories out. Thank you Martin Sixsmith for writing Philomena, thank you Philomena for sharing. God Bless You. I don’t believe He ever meant for us to suffer in His name but we need to GET THOSE STORIES OUT. And Pope Francis needs to continue his good work by acknowledging our years of suffering.
  • commented 2014-09-25 23:50:19 -0500
    Nun abuse is not the problem which restrain it’s self in a single location all over the world such incidents have been reported. Instead of making criticism we all have to find the factors due to which such incidents would happened. Every state should have to introduce an authority which regularize every church and the the workers attached. They also have to introduce some psychiatrists sessions.
  • commented 2014-09-24 12:15:20 -0500
  • commented 2014-08-10 10:47:35 -0500
    the way I see it and mind you I’m sure thousands of other people do also" and I’m not saying this to take away from what the Nazis did " to the Jews,Polish all Nationalities (The Holocaust) The horrible things the Nazis did;" With the Priest, Nuns, Pope, Vatican; horrible abuse on children;“starving children,abusing, rape ,torture,murder,burying baby” children’s bodies in septic tanks ; tell me" what is the difference between the ( Catholic Church & the Nazis ? )……… for a while they were able to stop the Nazis " and now we have the Neo Nazis / SSPX…………………but " what I don’t get" they were never able to stop the Pope,Priest,Nuns,The Vatican……mmmmmmmmWonder Why ????

    SSPX is a growing danger because they have six seminaries, three universities and 70 primary and secondary schools around the globe. In addition to Williamson it has three other bishops, more than 550 priests and 200 priests in training. Are they training to incite another Holocaust? Pope Francis doesn’t talk about the real issues — these skeletons in the vatican closet.
  • commented 2014-08-02 15:12:58 -0500
    Judgement Day might be sooner than you think Rita Marie. Either way, it still boggles my mind that women could be part of this cover-up, let alone the abuse itself. It’s just further proof that the Catholic hierarchy is indeed part of what the book of Revelation (3:9) describes as the synagogue of Satan….those calling themselves Jews (and Christians) even though they are not. Even the righteous are being fooled, as foretold. Don’t expect the U.S. government to lift a finger concerning this issue either, as they are a part of it as well. Outrageous conspiracy theory? We’ll find out upon Christ’s return. Just because an idea is too monstrous for the good-hearted to consider doesn’t mean it’s not possible. We’re in the last days. The final war between good and evil is upon us. The signs are everywhere.
  • commented 2014-08-02 11:42:13 -0500
    As victims we have to get the DOJ, Government etc.etc. to open their eye’s and keep them open to help the Children ( Victims ) to get justice here and now" this is 2014 stand on & for No More Abuse on Children; White House site; sign and pass it on to all who care > http://wh.gov/lzySY
  • commented 2014-06-04 21:35:33 -0500
    Starving children in catholic-run “homes” was the way the nuns enjoyed themselves. The food they gave me was disgusting slop and not much of it. The nuns ate well — I thought gluttony was a sin. You are correct Rita that those still alive should be punished now along with those still doing these horrible deeds. Then they can pay later in that burning lake too.
  • commented 2014-06-04 21:25:53 -0500
    800 dead in a mass grave in Ireland. Over 50,000 Canadian Indian children died — from abuse, torture, starvation, from murder — in residential schools run by the catholic church jointly with the church of England. Their bodies found in graves under trees that were planted to cover up the deaths. With so much evidence, in so many countries why is the church not held accountable? Why aren’t the governments in all countries excavating the land next to all of these schools and orphanages? It’s good that these atrocities make the news pages.
  • commented 2014-06-04 20:44:44 -0500
    It’s too long to wait for them to reach the hot lake; they need earthly consequences. When enough of us publicize all of their atrocious acts, public opinion will shift, just like it did with marriage equality and pot. If there’s one thing perps hate, it’s the light, so let’s keep shedding light on their actions. (And by perps, I mean the abusers and their superiors equally!)
  • commented 2014-06-04 19:08:53 -0500
    Let them enjoy their lavish lifestyles now while they still can. They’re going to be spending quite a long long time in a hot lake.
  • commented 2014-06-04 18:56:03 -0500
  • commented 2014-06-04 18:37:29 -0500
    Look at what was in the front page of msn.com today!!!
    Where was anyone who thought to speak up of the starvation that was so widespread in these catholic—I won’t capitalize it—institutions??? If you delve further, it was noted that the nuns and priests had gourmet meals…how in the world did no one speak out for the children?

  • commented 2014-05-30 16:02:03 -0500
    If the pope refused to meet with victims he’d be called out on that too.
  • commented 2014-05-27 02:16:39 -0500
    The pope’s meeting with victims is just another empty gesture—how many meetings have there been with zero results? When Pope Frank turns over the perps and Cardinal Mahoney et al to law enforcement for due process, then we’ll know he means business and is truly sincere about wanting to help victims and prevent future abuse.
  • commented 2014-05-26 18:35:33 -0500
    the pope said he will meet with sex abuse victims—why did he not say all victims of nuns etc—not just priests— but he will NOT come to usa where most of the victims are
  • commented 2014-05-18 18:47:58 -0500
    He must have been one of the last honorable bankers (if there is such a thing). I hope and pray that the Father in Heaven brings justice to these people and the world, for I believe we’re living in the last days. Please keep praying for the true Light to win.
  • commented 2014-05-18 18:37:04 -0500
    We were in England when a Vatican banker was found hanging from not ironically, Blackfriars’ Bridge…another facet of the conspiracy to kill my favorite pope…