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: [email protected]

  • 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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  • Timothy Egan
    commented 2014-05-18 15:11:35 -0500
    It just boggles my mind to know that nuns are part of this Satanic infiltration of the Catholic clergy and conspiracy against the innocent. It’s as though they don’t yet fear God and the Day of Judgement.
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-05-15 22:02:05 -0500
    My response tonight to the liberal Catholics demand that the Pope apologize to the American nuns, to the LCWR:
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-05-11 08:38:16 -0500
    If you want some concrete evidence about mean, cruel abusive nuns, look no further than Ireland and the Magdeline laundries…tales of pure terror.
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-05-10 21:13:58 -0500
    NY Times is crying for the poor sisters: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/11/opinion/sunday/dowd-with-malice-toward-nuns.html?_r=4
    It would be good to overload the Times with reality…
    My response:
    Cait Finnegan
    Poconos, PA Pending Approval

    Ever wonder if the pope may know more than you do about the nuns? Just a thought. Everyone has the nuns held up as saints and angels. Anyone notice they have been deafeningly silent on the issue of abuse in the Church? There are reasons for that. According to a study commissioned by the sisters 40% of their own membership admitted to being sexually abused before or after entering the convent. Abuse needs to be dealt with, not just run away from, and if it is dealt with about 30% of victims still repeat the abusive cycle. 70% do not—if it is dealt with. So, the silence about abuse? Do the math. When the LCWR grow up and act like responsible leaders (note how they ridicule the mishandling of this by the bishops) and work with victims’ groups, and help in the healing process with victim/survivors then they might be a bit more respected for actually being mature women and honest, and not just highly educated academics and social workers who are ignoring their own victims. Just do the math.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-05-09 05:10:17 -0500
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-05-09 05:07:36 -0500
    Nun abuse video—others good, too, especially Fr. Thomas Doyle’s…
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-05-09 05:06:10 -0500
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-05-07 23:40:23 -0500
    There is a good article on the current National Catholic Reporter at: http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/pope-francis-sex-abuse-panel-gets-real-accountability-protocols

    Here is my response. PLEASE ADD YOURS
    Cait Finnegan • a few seconds ago Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by National Catholic Reporter.

    This needs to be about more than just priests. Vowed religious women also abuse children and youth, and this continues to be totally ignored by the American Catholic population and the LCWR who claim no authority in this matter, yet do not hesitate to speak about and criticize everything the male clergy do or don’t do. LCWR has a moral authority if not canonical, and needs to stop ignoring victims of abuse by nuns and victim support groups who need to be part of a Church-wide healing process. The Vatican is cracking down on LCWR for theological matters, but letting them just slip quietly by while pointing fingers at the priests and bishops. Women religious commissioned a study in 1996 about their own members, but the results were squelched—with good reason by those who didn’t want the public to know that 40% of nuns admitted to being sexually abused before or after entering the convent… We know that 30% of victims who were abused go on to repeat abuse, keeping the cycle going, and this converts to major numbers among the population of nuns in the USA now, and over double that in the 60’s when so much abuse occurred! Abuse is sexual yes, but the rage in an abuse victim who goes on to repeat the cycle presents not only as sexual abuse by physical as well. Sounding more familiar now? The rage in abused nuns who fled to convents did not disappear into prayer books.

    As a survivor of sexual abuse by a Sister of Mercy who died last week, I really think this issue needs to be dealt with, and nuns need to stop throwing stones at the Vatican and male clergy while living in glass convents. They need to do their own work of healing from abuse, and face this all very directly. http://abusedbynuns.wordpress….
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-05-06 16:55:37 -0500
    Cait Finnegan, I admire your attitude and your journey and hope that you attain continued peace with the knowledge that your abuser is gone, truly gone…
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-05-06 16:52:36 -0500
    My abuser is still alive, well and revered…I would love to have taken action, but this was in 1959-60, I’ve lost contact with all my classmates who could testify and the one who I still am in touch with is still mesmerized with the posh environment/reputation of the school—for me, pure torture…
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-05-05 21:54:20 -0500
    My abuser died this past week: http://abusedbynuns.wordpress.com/
  • Eileen Gavigan
    commented 2014-04-14 20:20:39 -0500
    My dad abused me, my brother abused me and I cried to the church, a priest said I should report them so I did. My dad and brother cried to the church, and the monastery I joined told me i never should have reported them and then my food and drink got laced with drugs. And I had a serious nervous breakdown and have been on disability ever since. My family had a lot of money, and needed to save face in the community, and the nuns needed money. So they did all sorts of bad things to me, some I blocked out and some things I remember. In my early 20’s I thought I would escape the abuse of my family, Now I am in my 50’s and finally getting away. It’s been a living hell for years. What the church teaches is a beautiful thing, yet what the religious practice is horrible. They are more concerned about getting money than doing Gods will. Looking perfect, than striving to be perfect, one thing is for sure, I’m happy I am not a religious. I feel sorry for them.
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-04-05 22:21:48 -0500
    Been trying to build my blogs and sites. Also sent off a letter to Pope Francis last week about the LCWR. Who knows? We keep on trying… http://abusedbynuns.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/vestal-virgins/
  • Bonnie Richard
    commented 2014-03-20 18:43:50 -0500
    It is disgust-and sad to read about my town-abbeville Louisiana on bishop accountability and to see a priest marshall larrivere who was a pastor and teacher at mt carmel school in abbeville who suppose to have raped a 13 year old-. This is the same era when a nun named sister mary carmel was there- she was very abusive in this school, yet NO one— has spoken about her or him in this area—, like they say’ no one wants to get involved’ but read the TRUTH ON SNAPTHEY WRITE IT PRINT IT SPEAK IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-14 11:18:48 -0500
    Radio Broadcast from Kevin Annett re: action taken against the Church/corporation:
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-14 11:14:09 -0500
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-03-07 19:49:45 -0600
    Rita, yes I did get in touch with Kevin Annett. He is very kind and supportive. I sent him my book. I looked at the videos you recommended and they were great. I’m going to put his information on my blog and he said he would like that. Thanks for the links.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-07 14:44:56 -0600
    Annette, here is a vid on how to load onto youtube…
  • Annette Kissell Nestler
    commented 2014-03-07 14:34:34 -0600
    Not sure how to get the videos, on Youtube. Rita, yes, just friend my, on FB, then you will see the videos, etc.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-07 13:39:55 -0600
    Patricia, sorry, Colm O’Gorman—
    Annette, Could I have your permission to access your Facebook page?
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-07 13:36:01 -0600
    Check out Kevin Annett/hiddenfromhistory.org
    Also, Colm O’Brien, Ireland—they are both working on that…Colm’s Book: The Boy who Sued the Pope.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-07 13:32:39 -0600
    Hi Annette, I just signed you terrific petition.
    George, Did you reach Kevin Annett? Fr. Thomas Doyle??
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-03-07 07:38:41 -0600
    Annette, I don’t use facebook and don’t have a facebook account. Is there another way I can view your video? Can you put it on youtube.com or on Google+ ?
  • Annette Kissell Nestler
    commented 2014-03-07 07:09:43 -0600
    Thank you, George. Please continue to share and educate. Also, if you are interested, I put out 7 part, mini, video series, of my personal story of SURVIVAL!!! I posted to my Timeline, on Fb, two days ago and began to publically circulate them. Feel free to watch and share. I made them to educate, for this, so important issue. If you can’t see them, even though my settings, are public, feel free to friend me.
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-03-06 16:59:02 -0600
    Annette, I signed your petition.
  • Patricia Sulecki
    commented 2014-03-06 16:50:09 -0600
    Why can’t hundreds /thousands of victims; here in the( United States) get together an sue the Pope ? this is 2014 ? enough is enough; No more rape " No more abuse" No more Torture on Children, Women & Men ; From any Catholic official " NO MORE ABUSE !
  • Annette Kissell Nestler
    commented 2014-03-06 16:25:49 -0600
    I am posting a petition, I started, for the State of New Jersey, regarding SOL (Statute of Limitation Reform), with a “Survivors Window”. I am basing this, on my personal experience, as a SURVIVOR. It is long overdue, that children are safer and victims/survivors and their families, get justice, and beginning the REAL healing process. Chris Christie is a supporter which is why the RCC and their media are trying so to destroy him. They are well aware, of what this will cost them, emotionally and financially. They will do anything they can, to stop that from happening, on a State, and particularly, national level. Time for victims/survivors/their families and supporters, to stand in UNITY. “WE THE PEOPLE CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE!!!” http://www.change.org/petitions/snapnetwork-org-time-for-sol-statute-of-limitation-reform-with-a-survivor-window-in-new-jersey?share_id=lKRqsbAmDj&utm_campaign=share_button_action_box&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition
  • Mike Philips
    commented 2014-03-06 10:42:42 -0600
    In my humble opinion, I recommend that the religious community, discontinue the practice of cellabasy, as I believe this is the root of the problem. When a human takes a solemn oath not to engage in sexual copulation with other humans., This creates a pattern of secrecy and deception; and since normal sexual outlets are “off limits” other humans, children especially , become the targets. Children make poor witnesses and are more easily victimized, because of their innocence, and gullible and naive age. These people become masters of deception, and their affiliation as religious members, attempts to conceal their actions and often provides the perfect refuge for their activities, aiding them to re-locate and start their abuse again and again, as no one is aware of their past situations. Allowing the priesthood, and nun hood to have normal sexual orientation may be the only way to protect the children.
  • Patricia Sulecki
    commented 2014-03-06 10:06:53 -0600
    We have to get the all Priest, Nun’s ; who have raped, tortured, abused children as registered sex offenders; there is so much evidence, prof and so many of us victims to get them as sex offenders" ………We have to get Obama/Biden to hear all of our horrible abuse……………………..http://wh.gov/lUF7O
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-03-05 15:57:34 -0600
    Thank you Rita for the link to the story about the deaf children in Wisconsin. I wrote about this in my book and there is a film on the subject:
    “These crimes are featured in a documentary film released in the Fall of 2012 and scheduled as an HBO special for release in February 2013. According to Duane Dudek writing in the Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee (August 1, 2012), the “explosive” film, “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” tells the story of Murphy who abused boys for 30 years. Alex Gibney, an Oscar-winning director told the story of the sexual assaults by Murphy and included testimony by some of his deaf victims in the film. Says Dudek, “ the film cites pope benedict XVI – then cardinal joseph ratzinger – as being aware of complaints against him.” (excerpt from “Smothered” by George Barilla)

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