Abuse by Women Religious (nuns and sisters)

Contact: Mary Dispenza
Phone: (425) 644-2468
Email: [email protected]

A virtual support group for those abused by nuns meets weekly on Wednesdays at 5 PM Pacific time. Please call or e-mail Mary if you are interested in participating in the meeting.


Additional Information

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?

  • 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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  • 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.

  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-11-20 15:44:21 -0600
    Joanne Baribeau, your post here gives me courage. I am 63 years old and understand carrying a burden of anger and memories, and admire you tremendously for addressing your story and sharing it here.

    Cait Finnegan
  • Joanne Baribeau
    commented 2014-11-20 13:38:19 -0600
    I am almost 80 years old, and daily I have passed onto my family the scars of 17 years of abuse at the hands of religious women “doing God’s Will” I have recently viewed two movies that have sparked my indignation, my aging frustration and most of all my anger at my lost childhood. I was only four when placed in the boarding school at Hudson, NH to receive " a good Catholic education" passed on to me in the most abusive, mean spirited, cruel ways until I was 21 years old.
    Back to the films—the Magdalenes-was my first reality that “oh My God, others experienced the same illogical mental sick upbringing I did” “How could I be loved by God when I was not fit to be a grain of sand under His sandals.” I wanted to contact the Director of the film at the time and ask him how he learned so much-could he do more?
    Now comes a Judith Dench film-Philomena. I was spellbound—how brainwashed she was to forgive and forget, not their fault-my anger was on the same level or higher than the author’s anger-Martin Sixsmith. So now once again I am wondering-would he write another book? Stories wouldn’t be the same-but many many New England children were sent to boarding school at a cost of $40 a month, after the depression and during WWII maybe for reasons like parent death, parent illness, parents working, too many children in house, behavior problem or my case (mistress problems in a stated highly regarded Catholic Diocesan business corporation). Worst part of all, I was a tall blond IRISH girl in a french convent and I experienced 17 years of novitiate policy, water filled soup, gruel, near starvation during Lent, while the nuns table was on a stage above us with their special meals because they had spacial needs! And when they were finished we were automatically finished and had to leave the dinnig area even if we hadn’t been served yet-that happened a lot. I was having the devil driven out of me because I was a daughter born out of wedlock and not allowed to be like my Protestant Mother. So my story is different, but the horror, the upbringing, the abuse, the sexual abuse by many, the resulting story is the same as many more out there.

    I am too old to remember every name but all of you who witnessed, suffered, endured fruitless years of counseling to get over your childhood, you could do so much for those suffering now. Get your story out, find someone like Martin Sixsmith who might be your legs to investigate hours and hours of research and explode the story to the world. They were not all saints, it was not the sign of the times (as so many like to describe it)-in industrial New England, boarding schools went along with the religious code of the factory worker. I survived, I am a survivor mostly from sheer anger that kept me going and that is not good, not good for my family nor those around me. Best to get the stories out, all the stories. There was too much hiding going on-in all areas of the Catholic Church.

    Thank you for what you have accomplished so far. Continue with knowledge that you have already helped millions-just please keep going. Maybe some authors will come forward and help get our stories out. Thank you Martin Sixsmith for writing Philomena, thank you Philomena for sharing. God Bless You. I don’t believe He ever meant for us to suffer in His name but we need to GET THOSE STORIES OUT. And Pope Francis needs to continue his good work by acknowledging our years of suffering.
  • Bonnie Richard
    commented 2014-09-24 12:15:20 -0500
  • @pams54
    commented 2014-08-10 10:47:35 -0500
    the way I see it and mind you I’m sure thousands of other people do also" and I’m not saying this to take away from what the Nazis did " to the Jews,Polish all Nationalities (The Holocaust) The horrible things the Nazis did;" With the Priest, Nuns, Pope, Vatican; horrible abuse on children;“starving children,abusing, rape ,torture,murder,burying baby” children’s bodies in septic tanks ; tell me" what is the difference between the ( Catholic Church & the Nazis ? )……… for a while they were able to stop the Nazis " and now we have the Neo Nazis / SSPX…………………but " what I don’t get" they were never able to stop the Pope,Priest,Nuns,The Vatican……mmmmmmmmWonder Why ????

    SSPX is a growing danger because they have six seminaries, three universities and 70 primary and secondary schools around the globe. In addition to Williamson it has three other bishops, more than 550 priests and 200 priests in training. Are they training to incite another Holocaust? Pope Francis doesn’t talk about the real issues — these skeletons in the vatican closet.
  • Timothy Egan
    commented 2014-08-02 15:12:58 -0500
    Judgement Day might be sooner than you think Rita Marie. Either way, it still boggles my mind that women could be part of this cover-up, let alone the abuse itself. It’s just further proof that the Catholic hierarchy is indeed part of what the book of Revelation (3:9) describes as the synagogue of Satan….those calling themselves Jews (and Christians) even though they are not. Even the righteous are being fooled, as foretold. Don’t expect the U.S. government to lift a finger concerning this issue either, as they are a part of it as well. Outrageous conspiracy theory? We’ll find out upon Christ’s return. Just because an idea is too monstrous for the good-hearted to consider doesn’t mean it’s not possible. We’re in the last days. The final war between good and evil is upon us. The signs are everywhere.
  • @pams54
    commented 2014-08-02 11:42:13 -0500
    As victims we have to get the DOJ, Government etc.etc. to open their eye’s and keep them open to help the Children ( Victims ) to get justice here and now" this is 2014 stand on & for No More Abuse on Children; White House site; sign and pass it on to all who care > http://wh.gov/lzySY
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-06-04 21:35:33 -0500
    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.
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-06-04 21:25:53 -0500
    800 dead in a mass grave in Ireland. Over 50,000 Canadian Indian children died — from abuse, torture, starvation, from murder — in residential schools run by the catholic church jointly with the church of England. Their bodies found in graves under trees that were planted to cover up the deaths. With so much evidence, in so many countries why is the church not held accountable? Why aren’t the governments in all countries excavating the land next to all of these schools and orphanages? It’s good that these atrocities make the news pages.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-06-04 20:44:44 -0500
    It’s too long to wait for them to reach the hot lake; they need earthly consequences. When enough of us publicize all of their atrocious acts, public opinion will shift, just like it did with marriage equality and pot. If there’s one thing perps hate, it’s the light, so let’s keep shedding light on their actions. (And by perps, I mean the abusers and their superiors equally!)
  • Timothy Egan
    commented 2014-06-04 19:08:53 -0500
    Let them enjoy their lavish lifestyles now while they still can. They’re going to be spending quite a long long time in a hot lake.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-06-04 18:56:03 -0500
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-06-04 18:37:29 -0500
    Look at what was in the front page of msn.com today!!!
    Where was anyone who thought to speak up of the starvation that was so widespread in these catholic—I won’t capitalize it—institutions??? If you delve further, it was noted that the nuns and priests had gourmet meals…how in the world did no one speak out for the children?

  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-05-30 16:02:03 -0500
    If the pope refused to meet with victims he’d be called out on that too.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-05-27 02:16:39 -0500
    The pope’s meeting with victims is just another empty gesture—how many meetings have there been with zero results? When Pope Frank turns over the perps and Cardinal Mahoney et al to law enforcement for due process, then we’ll know he means business and is truly sincere about wanting to help victims and prevent future abuse.
  • Bonnie Richard
    commented 2014-05-26 18:35:33 -0500
    the pope said he will meet with sex abuse victims—why did he not say all victims of nuns etc—not just priests— but he will NOT come to usa where most of the victims are
  • Timothy Egan
    commented 2014-05-18 18:47:58 -0500
    He must have been one of the last honorable bankers (if there is such a thing). I hope and pray that the Father in Heaven brings justice to these people and the world, for I believe we’re living in the last days. Please keep praying for the true Light to win.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-05-18 18:37:04 -0500
    We were in England when a Vatican banker was found hanging from not ironically, Blackfriars’ Bridge…another facet of the conspiracy to kill my favorite pope…
  • Timothy Egan
    commented 2014-05-18 17:36:52 -0500
    Pope Francis is knowingly working for the devil. The last good pope to hold office was John Paul the 1st. And he was murdered.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-05-18 17:17:49 -0500
    This video explains Ratzinger’s resignation.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-05-18 17:13:08 -0500
    Oh and I forgot this: We all know that Pope Frank was elected to clean up the image, to window-dress as the church is so adept at doing. As he hasn’t been responsible for even one arrest, HE IS COMPLICIT!

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