The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
to Sr. Rita Brink
September 7, 2004
Sister Rita Brink, Prioress
We have heard from a woman who was sexually abused by nuns in your religious order. She informs us that you have responded not in a truly pastoral way, but with the same old discredited and hurtful hardball legal tactics.
We beg you to reconsider.
Specifically, we ask that you withdraw two of your legal motions. The first seeks to evade justice by taking advantage of the archaic and dangerous statute of limitations, and denying this victim her day in court. The second seeks to evade responding to discovery which may shed light on issues related to this abuse, including the abuse of others. This approach also prevents victims from finding out about one another and forming support groups and educating the public about the abuse.
You know the details of this case well, I'm sure.
From 1955-59, this victim attended Villa Madonna Academy (VMA) near Covington, Kentucky. It was owned and operated by the Benedictine Sisters of Saint Walburg Convent (now Monastery). She was one of a small number of boarding students.
At age 14, while a freshman in high school, she was sexually abused by one of the nuns. The abuse continued throughout her high school years, even though she twice reported the abuse to two priests who were chaplains at different times, the principal of the high school and to the Directress of the Academy.
This brave woman now reports that as she approached graduation, she "was ashamed, withdrawn and confused." She was heavily recruited to enter the convent and became aware that there was "little talking and nearly complete isolation and she wanted nothing more than to hide." The convent proved to be the wrong place for her. She was sexually abused by two other nuns starting in her first year.
For the sake of her privacy, I won't go into further details here. But I know that you've been made amply aware of how she has suffered and continues to suffer since the filing of her lawsuit in 2002
She has given your Order an opportunity to do the right thing. She met with you last fall. She assumed, like so many of us do, that if only you heard about her childhood horror, saw her pain that surely you would finally respond in a Christ-like manner. So she bared her soul, shared her secrets, made herself vulnerable to you again so that she could recover.
Sadly, she was again bitterly disappointed.
Nearly a year later, any pastoral response has been over shadowed by your actions. Indeed, your actions have gotten worse, not better. While pretending to care, you have simultaneously instructed your lawyer to "take advantage of all legal defenses" available to you?
Remember, please, that this victim is a former nun. She devoted years of her life to serving the church. She comes from a very devout Catholic family. She attended Catholic schools. She did what bishops and other church leaders beg victims to do: she has patiently given you and your colleagues more than ample time to respond with decency.
Her reward for all this: to be treated as the enemy, and to be met with stiff-arm, scorched earth legal defense maneuvers.
You have a legal right, of course, to hide behind the statute of limitations. You also have a legal right to seek to keep disturbing secrets hidden. But religious leaders possess many legal rights that they wisely choose not to exercise: the right to go to topless bars, to accompany women to abortion clinics, to sell pornography. Just because you can do something does not mean you should do it.
Common decency tells us that we cannot hold ourselves out as Christian leaders while using technicalities to evade our responsibilities. Nor can we take actions that can only hurt the already-wounded, while publicly professing to care about abuse victims.
So we plead with you to act as Jesus would to this courageous woman. Learn from the mistakes and ultimately self-defeating hardball tactics of some of America's bishops. Take a different course. Respond with compassion, not combativeness.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests