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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  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-10-26 09:23:26 -0500
    Thanks, Pat and Cait. for your advocacy and voice in supporting survivors. Mary.
  • Patricia Budd
    commented 2019-10-14 10:34:53 -0500
    I do have interview with huffington post on the 29 th if this helps
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2019-10-14 10:28:54 -0500
    Yes. You know I am in with this, Mary!
    Cáit Finnegan
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-10-13 10:39:05 -0500
    If you can lead a press conference on nuns as abusers too, please contact SNAP. We will be holding press conferences around the US on All Survivors Day on November 3rd. email Mary at mcdispenza@comcast. net or e-mail SNAP. Thanks. We need your help..
  • Tess Sneesby
    followed this page 2019-09-22 17:46:54 -0500
  • Jennifer Dubois
    followed this page 2019-05-13 08:12:56 -0500
  • Therese Budd
    commented 2019-05-05 14:38:24 -0500
    Brothers under Patrizi
  • Therese Budd
    commented 2019-05-05 14:36:59 -0500
    There were brothers who were physically verbally abused which now thier testimony’s are coming forth
  • Melanie Sakoda
    followed this page 2019-04-28 15:11:25 -0500
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-04-10 12:12:10 -0500
    Not a flavor — a favor!
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-04-10 12:11:47 -0500
    Thanks, Patricia — a flavor — Can you please give me a call at 425-644-2468. Thanks, Mary.
  • Sheila Gray
    commented 2019-04-09 15:45:41 -0500
    I guess they’re all different. Religious Orders engaged in teaching can only operate within the USA with permission of the local Cardinal, Archbishop or Bishop. Ultimately, Teaching Orders of nuns are responsible to their Alumns.
  • Patricia Budd
    commented 2019-04-09 14:09:41 -0500
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-04-09 12:24:15 -0500
    Yes, Patricia that is what I found out also with the addition that certain religious orders were founded by a pastor and so become responsible to diocese. It seems to me that we would need to research to origin of this order to know canonically to whom they are responsible. They certainly fall under Rome or archdiocese. Join me in some research on this — to whom are religious orders accountable? Love.
  • Patricia Budd
    commented 2019-04-09 08:48:57 -0500
    Is it true if you were abused by a pontifical order and the order was disbanded or dissolved then then the diocese of Rome would be responsible and held accountable and not the local diocese where abuse occurs. That is what I was told by Bishop Rozanski bishop of the diocese of Springfield.
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-04-08 14:23:40 -0500
    Patricia, let’s talk later today. I do have some thoughts of how to proceed. Love.
  • Patricia Budd
    commented 2019-04-08 13:59:33 -0500
    Hi Mary and everybody I had a meeting with the bishop from Springfield Massachusetts diocese about Patrizi and Kovacs they said it’s out of thier jurisdiction so they never reported it. I just feel helpless meanwhile 16 + currently abuse continues.
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-04-01 13:03:46 -0500
    Our stories have the power to change us as yours is having. Thanks.
  • Patricia Budd
    commented 2019-04-01 13:00:57 -0500
    Thank you Mary hearing your story encouraged me
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-04-01 12:56:30 -0500
    Dear Sheila, it was great to talk to you today. I will review my our contacts to see if there are other survivors who were sexually violated by the Madames of the Sacred Heart in New York. Keep up your good work and healing and above all take care of yourself. Mary.
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-04-01 12:53:03 -0500
    Oh Patricia that is wonderful. Look what you had a part in starting speaking truth to power.
  • Patricia Budd
    commented 2019-04-01 12:48:18 -0500
    Mary other ex Sisters of my old order are coming forward there are five testimonies. I can’t wait to meet with the DA.
  • Patricia Budd
    commented 2019-04-01 12:45:47 -0500
    I’m so sorry Shelia for what you suffered but so proud that you have the courage to search and help other survivors.
  • Sheila Gray
    commented 2019-04-01 12:27:25 -0500
    I was sexually abused by a Religious of the Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1969, when I was a young 17 year-old at the beginning of my Senior Year. It changed the course of my life forever. I wanted to be an English Professor before the abuse happened, and the cover up began. Please contact me if you, or anyone you know, was ever molested by a Religious of the Sacred Heart anywhere in the USA or elsewhere. Thank you.
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-03-31 11:07:34 -0500
    Dear friends, if you were abused by a nun — physically, emotionally or sexually in Pennsylvania, can you please contact me at 425-644-2468 or e-mail at mcdispenza@comcast.net. your voice is needed for an upcoming story. Thanks so much for being brave. Mary.
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-03-31 11:03:20 -0500
    Patricia, you have done great work to expose these perpetrators. Thank you.
  • Patricia Budd
    commented 2019-03-15 16:36:49 -0500
    Hi Mary I have done that with Theresa Kovacs. She’s the one abusing her mom. Patrizi lives in Italy or France. It’s so confussing. I did report to protective services.
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2019-03-15 13:18:05 -0500
    Hi Patricia, have you considered giving your experience of Patrizi and abuse to protective services where Patrizi and her mom are located? Love.
  • Patricia Budd
    commented 2019-03-15 09:12:09 -0500
    I found out that Theresa Kovacs right hand of Elizabeth Patrizi has been abusing her mom in which she has a bruise on her head. Luckily protective services got involved. But you see even I reported to the DA hotline in my area of the abuse I suffered. The abuse stills continues.
  • John Kellermeyer
    commented 2019-02-28 10:24:35 -0600
    Welcome home, Mary. I know you did your best in Rome, but this was never going to have an outcome that would be decent, fair, honorable or truthful coming from this false church with false dogma and and an expiration date drawing closer with each passing hour. Be well.

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