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: Mary Dispenza
Phone: (425) 644-2468
Email: mcdispenza@comcast.net

  • 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.

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)

nuns sisters women religious clergy abuse

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  • Annette Kissell Nestler
    commented 2013-02-17 09:01:15 -0600
    Frank, the story I have to offer, shows how the nuns, scarificed children and their reputations and families reputations, to protect the hierarchy, just like the Bishops, etc. do. It is a story that shows how they protected each other and their evil ways, over loving children, yet their teachings are about family, a direct contradiction. I spent 7th and 8th grade in Catholic school. We used to have basketball games, in the evening, and some of us kids, would go to cheer the teams on. One night, while, at the school, at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, in Vineland, NJ (now called Divine Mercy, after the church mergers), a few of us were at one of the basketball games. It was common for some of the kids to leave the aduitorium and run around the school outside, as there was no supervision. The priest in charge, of the parish, (Fr. Richard Gerbino), was involved with children/vunerable adults, and all kinds of money problems, I read about when I was older. Well, this one night, at a basketball game, I was inside with a few friends, a couple of kids came running in from around back of the school. It was dark outside, because the days were short. They said, to us, quick, come with us, you have to see this, the fourth grade teacher (a man married with two kids) and the fifth grade teacher (a younger, attractive nun), are in the fourth grade classroom making out. Well, being perfectly honest, I didn’t believe the kid who was saying this, because I was being taught and raised that holy people didn’t do things like that. (priest, nuns, etc.). I was only 12 years old, without my parents, and being raised by my immigrant grandmother. A certain mindset was being indoctrinated into us, regarding sexuality and the perception of the church heirarchy. I can see this as an adult, now. That said, I and a couple of friends, left the auditiorim, and went out back with the girl, Michelle, who called us out. It was dark, we made our way around to the back of the school. The classroom lights were on and the shades up about, a couple of inches, just enough to peek under. Because it was dark out and the lights on, in the class, us kids could see in very well. I peeked in with the others. The fifth grade teacher, nun, in full habit (black), was pushed into the corner and passionately kissing the fourth grade teacher (think his name was Mr. McDonald), he was the one married with two kids. They were holding each other tightly and kissing passionately. I remember well, because I was so shocked. Had I not seen this, for myself, I NEVER would have believed it, based on what I was being taught. I was confused, all us kids, were shocked and laughing. When I went home, I told my grandmother, as other kids, told their parents, what they witnessed. Here is the part that get SO CRAZY!!! The next day, at school, MOTHER SUPERIOR, was there, angry. Everyone knew not to say anything, “Culture of Silence”. We were scared and we were told, that our parents would be being called about us kids lying. They did not want the truth to be told. MOTHER SUPERIOR protected the hierarchy, and sacrificed us kids. WE WERE TELLING THE TRUTH AND CONFUSED. Years later, I saw this nun (the fifth grade teacher), at the same church, during a mass. She was in lay clothes, no longer a nun, and pregnant. (Don’t know who the father was, or whatever, happened to the fourth grade teacher), just know it was all very confusing. Why did MOTHER SUPERIOR, protect the child/vunerable adult abusing priest and the hierarchy, over us children. What did we do wrong? Yet we were treated like the offenders. WE WERE INNOCENT CHILDREN. WHAT WOULD MOTHER SUPERIOR’S MOTIVE BE? As an adult, and knowing all I know now, with all the caos that occurred, at that church, I believe perhaps women like her, have been victimized, in some way, perhaps sexual or other and out of defensiveness (not dealing with their own abuse issues), they took a path of psychologically entering into a silent pact, with the male hierarchy. Meaning, their own sexuality was stiffled from their own childhood or life trauma, so they became frigid and rigid. These are prefect qualifications for becoming a nun. As kids, I used to hear, some of the adults making jokes and saying things like, Why are they called nuns? Because they don’t get none, and everyone would laugh. It is all so sad and kids were sacrificed again, because of a sick concept regarding human sexually. The sicker this cycle becomes, the more control the hierarchy impliments. It’s a defense of their own abuse. SO SAD!!! WE WERE ALL SACRIFICED.
  • Mike Philips
    commented 2013-02-15 21:12:54 -0600
    Read my story
  • Frank Laferriere
    commented 2013-01-28 19:03:17 -0600
    I have my own blog called Rape Victims of the Catholic Church and try as hard as I may, I can barely find any stories to post about nuns who abuse. I sure would love some help being pointed in the right direction so I can also help in exposing this evil.
  • Frank Lostaunau
    commented 2012-10-07 22:35:43 -0500
    What I enjoy doing is volunteering for BishopAccountability. They are a wonderful organization full of folks with big hearts! My job is to track down photos of perps that are listed on their site. So many perps and their supporters have managed to hide their photos and I get such satisfaction when I finally track down a photo of a perp who thinks he/she will never be found. It must really tick them off when all of sudden their face is posted on line for everybody on the planet to view!!!

    All you gotta do is Google BishopAccountability. Click on the color map of the USA. When the names of the various states pops up, click on any state and on a city, then search around on the internet for a photo. It can be difficult because many have been so sneaky and they seem to be able to get lots of help from the church, families, etc. Still, I’ve tracked down dozens of photos and I send them to BA. Trish is the woman that I work for and she is always grateful because she has so much to do that she welcomes all the help. Besides she is very sweet and everybody in San Francisco loves her. Volunteer work is basic to my survival!
  • L N
    commented 2012-10-07 21:57:57 -0500
    correction on post just made. To excuse those who broke hearts with abuse, from the orders. Remove them to laity.
  • L N
    commented 2012-10-07 21:56:58 -0500
    Sound over Silence is SOS. The one thing that the Church can do is to utilize sound. It is a miraculous tool of healing. To admit the wrongdoing. To form a cursillo type psychologist monitored retreat system of apology. To take steps in each congregation to excuse those who have damaged families of devout Catholics with their indiscretions and assault that went far deeper than physical. The violation by a religious is a travesty, a damager of the spiritual heart. You can build all the labyrinths you want at your retreat centers but all roads lead to one. Veritas. That is Latin for the truth. Veritas in sound will set you, and us, free. No more silent treatment. No more denials. No more evasions. Truth. Compassion. Sound Over Silence. SOS.
  • Frank Lostaunau
    commented 2012-09-25 11:52:42 -0500
    May the victims/survivors of sexually abusive nuns thrive. LONG LIVE SURVIVORS! VIVA!
  • Annette Kissell Nestler
    commented 2012-09-20 06:56:34 -0500
    I agree Lillian. The “CULTURE OF SILENCE” has been a double wammy for victims/survivors. First, the pain and trauma of the abuse, then the pain and trauma of not being heard. Like Van Gough, screams in the night that everyone ignores. We will continue to raise our voices loud and clear, so that even those in the deepest depths of denial can no longer shut us out! Lillian, I always loved that song. “Here I am Lord” I can still see myself singing it in church with my grandmother and it brings tears to my eyes and chills to my soul.
  • L N
    commented 2012-09-20 00:45:38 -0500
    To ignore the pain and suffering of survivors is a hypocrisy of faith. There is a song that we sung a lot growing up. It is called “here I am Lord.” “I will hold Your people in my heart” How does one hold a person in their heart and help them through a very difficult healing time from abuse when they are

    1. ignored
    2. ocstracized
    3. experiencing their trauma minimized or dismissed

    I learned that the only way to receive support from women religious for the most part…is not to be a survivor. Unfortunately I am one. Thus, ignored.

    Here’s the thing though. I don’t have to understand my faith the way they do. I do not need to emulate the silent treatment.

    I call for a change, for sound over silence, for no more evasion. Face the truth, deal with it, heal it and we need to move forward, removing those who have crossed the line from the ranks. Purge your congregations. Stop making excuses and face what has happened and please, for the love of your God please stop using the silent treatment with us. You make it many times worse when you ignore survivors. It was awful!
  • Annette Kissell Nestler
    commented 2012-08-08 00:40:00 -0500
    The LCWR must also take responsibility, or lack there of, for it’s actions.
    Annette Nestler
  • Snap Admin Admin
    published this page in Resources 2012-08-07 11:24:35 -0500

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