The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
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Sex Abuse Victims Meet with National Nuns' Leadership
Support Group Wants Catholic Sisters To Help Reach Out
SNAP Challenges Individual Orders of Women Religious to Act Now
For the first time ever, leaders from the largest support group for clergy molestation victims met face-to-face with leaders of the nation's largest organization of Catholic nuns at a private meeting yesterday in Chicago.
Five leaders of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) urged four officials with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to reach out to others who have been sexually abused by nuns and work harder to prevent such crimes against vulnerable children, teens and adults.
The discussion was prompted by a letter to the nuns and a news conference SNAP held outside the LCWR headquarters in July in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Each of the victims who participated, four women and one man, were sexually assaulted by nuns. An 82 year old Milwaukee woman who was molested at a convent in 1928 spoke with Catholic authorities for the first time of her pain. And a former nun who was sexually molested by her superior while she was a young sister in Pennsylvania traveled from California to push the LCWR to work at stopping abuse now and in the future.
SNAP urged the LCWR to:
- place SNAP information on the LCWR home page
- contact each of their member orders and request that they do the same
- have SNAP members who are victims of sexual abuse by women religious to speak at LCWR regional meetings and at the LCWR-CMSM Joint National Assembly next year, and
- provide SNAP with a list of all the LCWR member religious orders
so that SNAP will be able give victims the information they need
to contact the religious order of their perpetrator if they choose
to do so.
"Our goal is to help make victims feel less afraid to come forward and get help," said Barbara Blaine, of Chicago, IL. "We also want to let victims know that confidential, independent sources of help are out there."
Gabrielle Azzaro, a SNAP leader in San Diego, spoke of how she lost her vocation because of the sexual assaults forced on her nightly by her superior. "We were taught to obey our superiors and never to question," she said. "She was God on earth to young sisters and there was no way to stop her."
"We appreciate that the leaders of LCWR listened to us and look forward to their response to our ideas," said Landa Mauriello-Vernon of Hamden, CT. She was continuously sexually assaulted when she was 17 by a nun while in a Catholic school. "We believe that our ideas can be worked into whatever plan of action LCWR decides to take. We are experts in the field of sexual abuse and hope that our involvement in the process will allow LCWR to set the bar higher than the bishops did in 2002," she said.
SNAP's presentation to the LCWR focused on outreach and prevention. LCWR officials indicated they would respond next month to SNAP's proposal.
Until then, SNAP leaders are challenging every religious order of women in this country to begin to put into place their action plan.
"We are looking for these orders to acknowledge the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by nuns and to begin to listen to the voices of the victims," said Steve Theisen of Hudson, Iowa. "There is no reason to wait for word from LCWR. The leaders of these orders should act today to help reach out to victims who are still suffering in silence," he said. Theisen was sexually abused for three years beginning at age nine by a nun who taught in his Catholic grammar school in Dubuque, Iowa.
SNAP acknowledges that LCWR is a professional organization that has little governing power over the religious orders. "They are, however, a voice that their members hear and follow," said Mary Guentner, a SNAP leader in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
SNAP, a support group, was founded in 1988 in Chicago. It now has more than 5,000 members of sexual abuse of priests, nuns, ministers, deacons and all religious leaders in virtually every state and holds monthly support group meetings in 54 cities.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests