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)

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  • Tom Adams
    commented 2018-11-15 03:43:34 -0600
    I am glad there is SNAP.

    St. Mary Star of the Sea School in Virginia was home to abusive nuns in the 1950’s. Chief among them was Sister Constantine who taught 5th grade in 1959.

    Her favorite technique was to deny restroom visits in order to force the child to soil himself then the psychological abuse would start. Never the girls, always the boys. And that abuse was public and went on until the next victim was assaulted. Why would anyone, especially a “bride of Christ”, do that to a child?

    Five decades later and I still feel rage when I think about it.

    SNAP gives me release. Thank you.
  • Anonymous
    followed this page 2018-10-28 12:12:38 -0500
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2018-10-03 10:36:14 -0500
    Dear Susie, I will send love and light to your dear son Andrew and his family and to you. There is no pain greater than the pain a mother carries when one of her children has been harmed, in this case repeatedly by nuns. I’m happy to know that you have contacted an attorney. This process can be a great part of healing. Susie, we will be forming a support group soon. Please contact me at 425-644-2468 if you would like to know more about this or just need some support and understanding. Mary.
  • Susie Deghelder
    commented 2018-10-03 09:12:59 -0500
    My son was abused and beaten repeatedly by nuns at the Catholic school he attended. I have contacted an attorney to review our case. Will you all please pray for Andrew and his family.
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2018-08-27 12:48:29 -0500
    Dear Veda,
    I am sorry that you have suffered such pain. You are on the right page. Please contact me so we can talk. Thanks. Mary Dispenza.
  • Veda Summers
    commented 2018-08-26 04:05:22 -0500
    Hi. I’m a survivor of mental abuse at the hands of nuns in the second half of the fifties. Together with my parents they ruined my life. Am I on the right site?
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2018-08-22 12:17:03 -0500
    Has the LCWR had any positive response to the needs of victims of vowed religious or do the still cling to silence about this?
  • Mary Dispenza
    commented 2018-08-21 15:38:07 -0500
    John Welcome. One thing for sure – you are not alone. We are with you. I am Mary Dispenza, the SNAP contact for nun abuse. Can you call or e-mail. I have a question. My contact info is above. Thanks John
  • John Kellermeyer
    commented 2018-08-21 12:55:33 -0500
    I’m honored to have joined with so many today by activating an account with SNAP. Thank you all for your tremendous work, your pain while engaging yourself for the benefit of others, and your courage in staying the course. I am a survivor. More than that, I found my voice sometime ago and will never be silenced. Look where your hard work has led the world this very day, August 21, 2018, and never give up, never be quiet and know you are not alone. You never were.
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2018-01-04 18:08:15 -0600
    Response to Barbara Briemer.
    Barbara, I am not stating that ONLY lesbian nuns are ephebophiles. Clearly some are attracted to male youth. I am speaking from my personal experience in Catholic girls’ high school, my own years of abuse, and my observations from being in the convent.

    Unlike pedophiles, they can mature and are then usually attracted to their peers whether straight or gay.

    My lived experience is all I share and it includes the serious denial of immature sexual activity among women religious particularly 50 yrs ago.
  • Bob Young
    commented 2016-12-16 16:24:40 -0600
    They got me. The priest (sexually) and my mother (abused in every way but) and she was raised abusively in convents. 1st grade through high school. Her stories are frightening. Sometimes I cannot listen. But I know what she did to me. I’m 60 now and just presently putting it all together. There is so little on this. Nuns abusing girls in the 40’s and early 50’s. It rolls down hill. It ruined my life. C-PTSD is no fun.
  • Kenneth Lincoln
    commented 2016-06-21 14:00:54 -0500
    I have had childhood abuse by both nuns and priests in the catholic church. I am 63 and still recovering. When I was young these people represented God. I never really understood God till I left the church. I learned more about darkness and the devil from these people. Statue of limitations prevent recourse. I have no use for the catholic church today. I am presently attending a bible based church. I think when Christ returns He will be ashamed of what the catholic church did and has become. I know vengeance isnt mine but it is Gods. I would love to see that………Kenny
  • Lore Sogge
    commented 2016-06-10 04:47:07 -0500
    The Catholic Church will never be held accountable for their abomination. They have too much Nazi gold. They are untouchable as the lord of this world.
  • Barbara Briemer
    commented 2016-03-16 12:06:01 -0500
    Replying to Cait Finnegan comments
    Quote — Lesbian ephebophile religious women abuse children. Studies are studies. Experience is experience. 14% of all nuns were themselves sexually abused. 33% of those abused repeat the abuse—in the convent or out, among youth in their care or young novices. Those are the facts learned by those abused by these women. Unquote

    As I said in my earlier comments, Nuns/Sisters do sexually abuse children – there is no question about that.
    Disagreement, however, is based in the idea that it is lesbian women who are the abusers.
    It would be helpful if you would supply links to any studies which suggest otherwise.

    I think the most helpful example is the Coach Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State where because the victims of the sexual abuse were males many presumed that Sandusky was a homosexual rather than an ephebophile —

    Quote — The Penn State Scandal Isn’t About Homosexuality

    This guy managed to turn an accused pedophile into the symbol of gay parents everywhere, even though the American Psychiatric Association makes a clear distinction between homosexuality and pedophilia. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health says that heterosexual men are actually more likely to perpetuate sexual abuse on children than gays. And more and more agencies are recognizing that not only do gays and lesbians make good parents, but that allowing them to adopt could help thousands of kids across the country who need homes. Unquote
    Read more at http://www.phillymag.com/g-philly/2011/11/15/penn-state-scandal-homosexuality/#tf7Z6Qeg3uQpJ2fb.99

    When we are discussing youth at ages from 15 to 19 — we are also aware of other guidelines which can complicate our view of what is actually happening as there is concern about twenty year old+ adult male relationships with young girls who are just reaching the “age of consent.” Many of these relations can easily be seen as unhealthy for the young girl involved. Also, generally across the US you can be married at age 18.

    In research environments, specific terms are used for chronophilias: for instance, ephebophilia to refer to the sexual preference for mid-to-late adolescents,12 hebephilia to refer to the sexual preference for earlier pubescent individuals, and pedophilia to refer to the sexual preference for prepubescent children.23 However, the term pedophilia is commonly used by the general public to refer to any sexual interest in minors below the legal age of consent, regardless of their level of physical or mental development.4
    . . .
    Ephebophilia is used only to describe the preference for mid-to-late adolescent sexual partners, not the mere presence of some level of sexual attraction. Generally, the preference is not regarded by psychologists as a pathology when it does not interfere with other major areas of one’s life, and is not listed by name as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), the ICD-10, or as a paraphilia. However, the preference can sometimes be diagnosed as a disorder if it results in dysfunction or exploitative behavior, under the DSM specification 309.2, “Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified”.12

    Sexual abuse is based in assault on the victims who are vulnerable due to age or being overpowered by an adult — or the force of authority which we see with religious figures.

    And it is also true that often those who are sexually abused will sexually abuse others.
    Many do not.
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2016-03-15 23:08:41 -0500
    Lesbian ephebophile religious women abuse children. Studies are studies. Experience is experience. 14% of all nuns were themselves sexually abused. 33% of those abused repeat the abuse—in the convent or out, among youth in their care or young novices. Those are the facts learned by those abused by these women.
  • Barbara Briemer
    commented 2016-03-15 13:13:32 -0500
    Replying to Cait Finnegan
    Quote — Ephebophiles are either heterosexual or homosexual or lesbian. Different dynamics than pedophelia. Requires different approaches to the predators. Unquote

    As I said, my concerns are that society can protect our children — and that requires a clearer understanding of these conditions.
    Pedophiles are attracted to children younger than 11 years of age
    Hebephiles to children 11 to 14 years of age
    Ephebophiles to children 15 to 19 years of age
    There are also cases I’m sure many are familiar with where infants are sexually abused.

    From my readings of studies, it seems clear that homosexuality isn’t a factor in sexual abuse of children.

    That they are MALE is acknowledged even by right wing women’s groups.
    That does not mean that females have not abused children, but it seems to be females who are influenced or under the control of males.
    That would certainly qualify nuns who have committed their lives to subservience to a male-supremacist church.

    We are discussing organized patriarchal religion which underpins patriarchy and that pre-conditions thinking by those attached to the church
    in lifelong commitment to that concept.

    By the way -
    Long before the “white” man arrived In Hawaii, homosexuals were esteemed in their communities -
    and honored for their work in caring for orphaned children.
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2016-03-15 11:40:29 -0500
    Ephebophiles are either heterosexual or homosexual or lesbian. Different dynamics than pedophelia. Requires different approaches to the predators.
  • Barbara Briemer
    commented 2016-03-13 11:42:58 -0500
    Came in to the website to see if there was any discussion of the studies which show that it is males who are our sexual abusers of children -
    and that they are heterosexual males. Heterosexual males are 100X less likely than Homosexual males to sexually abuse children.
    I’ve noticed that the SPOTLIGHT movie and also articles written on sexual abuse rarely mention these studies.
    I’ve read some of the legal concerns of SNAP in regard to demands for personal information on victims which Is quite threatening, not only
    to those abused by priests but to any victim who needs the protection of privacy.
    I’m a “recovering Catholic” myself — from an Irish Catholic family in NYC. I was never sexually abused but the experience from first to 8th grades
    was frightening for the most part as there was very authoritarian rule by nuns — and after that time I was able to just ignore the church, except for
    the brainwashing which remains. Children really don’t discuss these experiences — they really don’t have the world view — or even the language
    to begin to discuss what is happening to them. And, if on top of all of that you are sexually abused by a priest (or nun) it would be shattering.
    Again — the reason I visited this site was because of what seems to be the continuing suggestion by the RCC that it is homosexual priests who
    have sexually abused children. If families are to be able to protect their children properly from any and all sexual abusers they need to be made aware that of the information from studies on pedophiles.
    The history of sexual abuse of children in the church is confirmed by Italians who say it was happening from the very first days of the church.
    Betty Friedan, the feminist made some comments about Freud which I thought were very interesting -
    She related that Freud’s patients were relating stories of sexual abuse by male members of their family – fathers, uncles, male cousins -
    male friends of the family. And that Freud betrayed his young patients by suggesting in the “Oedipus Complex” that it was the child who was the sexual aggressor versus the parent and other adults. Of course, this is a ridiculous concept that has never really been challenged or attacked.
    I’m sure there were, nonetheless, many instances of Nuns sexually abusing children in their care. They had the greatest access to these children
    and control over them. There are many stories yet to be told.

    The right wing coup on Pope John XXIII’s Vatican II has pretty much brought the RCC to collapse.
    Vatican II sought to make the church a democracy by acknowledging that members had the right to free thought and personal conscience in
    all issues — including contraception. It destroyed the concept of Papal “infallibility.”
    Most of all it sought to give the church a compassionate and humane face.
    That was 50 years ago. And the death of Pope John XXIII was followed by the suspicious deaths of two succeeding Popes.
    I trust that Pope Francis is a sign that liberal control of the church has been regained and that this is an effort to save the church from itself.
    Organized patriarchal religion underpins patriarchy.

    Here is some information on the studies of pedophiles —

    QUOTE -
    In order to protect young children from pedophiles and those who are attracted to
    11 to 14 year olds, the public has to understand that our sexual abusers of children
    are MALES -
    and that they are heterosexual males. Heterosexual males are 100X more likely to sexually abuse a child than a homosexual male. A 1998 Study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 90% of pedophiles are men, and 95% of these individuals are heterosexual. Research has indicated that gay men and lesbians are less likely than heterosexual to sexually abuse children. Perhaps the most egregious and damaging claim promulgated by anti-gay groups is the claim that homosexuality is intrinsically linked to pedophilia and child sexual abuse. The social science research on sexual orientation and child sexual abuse clearly disproves the claim that homosexuals are more likely to molest children. A 1998 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 90% of pedophiles are men, and 95% of these individuals are heterosexual. One researcher explained this statistic by noting, "Gay men desire consensual sexual relations with other adult men. Pedophiles are usually adult men who are sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children. They are rarely sexually attracted to other adults. In fact, research has indicated that gay men and lesbians are LESS likely than heterosexuals to sexually abuse children. Two studies that examined the sexual orientation of convicted child molesters found that less than 1% in one study and 0% in the other were lesbian or gay. One psychologist reviewed the existing social science literature on the relationship between sexuality and child sexual abuse and found that “a gay man is no more likely than a straight man to perpetrate sexual activity with children.” Further, “cases of perpetration of sexual behavior with a pre-pubescent child by an adult lesbian are virtually nonexistent.” See: Focus on the Facts" — Sean Cahill, PH.D, 2004 Also : The right-wing “Family Research Council” notes/confirms findings that “almost all child sexual abuse is committed by men.”

  • Gabrielle Longhi
    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?
  • David Taylor
    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.
  • Johanna Smith
    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
  • JShaw
    followed this page 2015-09-09 12:25:09 -0500
  • Sarah Anders
    commented 2015-08-21 12:48:35 -0500
    Good luck and courage to all of you
  • Roma Downey
    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/
  • Carly Danner
    commented 2015-02-06 21:46:40 -0600
    These stories are so sad, makes me cry, and fill ashamed for these poor kids.
  • paco wilson
    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.
  • Starcruiser Danny
    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.
  • Zohan Matt
    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!
  • Ginger Perry
    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.

  • Ginger Perry
    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.


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