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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  • 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.
  • @pams54
    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)
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-05 15:46:03 -0600
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC0vxiYnU64 THIS IS BEYOND COMPREHENSION—I think this is a strong reason behind Ratzinger’s resignation/flight to the safety of his castel.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-02 16:18:57 -0600
    Wonder if this nun has been caught yet…
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-03-02 15:46:56 -0600
    that link that is on the bottom of my previous post doesn’t work -but if you type in Pope Francis on Google, you will see the link to the post
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-03-02 15:44:24 -0600
    Cait Finnegan: if you type in Pope Francis on Google, you will see on the first page of Google the link to the Silent Sisters on my blog
    Pope Francis doesn’t want these Silent Sisters to talk

    George Barilla
    2 days ago – Pope Francis doesn’t want these Silent Sisters to talk
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-02 00:39:15 -0600
    We weren’t alone; it was happening all over the world…
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-01 23:54:22 -0600
    Don’t get me started…I’ve been gathering these videos, etc., for literally years…Kevin Annett and the International Tribunal I believe are responsible for Ratzinger’s resignation because they were on the verge of indicting him. Also, Colm O’Gorman from Ireland, The Man Who Sued the Pope!!
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-01 23:46:51 -0600
    Father Thomas Doyle is a wonderful victims’ advocate:
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-01 23:44:25 -0600
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-03-01 21:30:47 -0600
    George, thanks for putting Silent Sisters on your blog. I appreciate it.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-01 18:55:23 -0600
    GEORGE, I hope this is current…
    Kevin Annett
    ph: 1-888-265-1007
    Go to hiddenfromhistory.org
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-03-01 18:45:07 -0600
    To Patricia—I agree with George; Your petition is a very good one and it is the best site. I will work on promoting it.
    Meanwhile, I will post more and more of my collection of websites, documentaries and videos on the universality of the evil and corruption of the catholic church…

    George, Father Thomas Doyle is an incredible advocate for victims:
    Kevin Annett: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vNW9meqny4
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-02-28 19:04:16 -0600
    Cait Finnegan: I put the link to “Silent Sisters” on my blog:
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-02-28 18:44:42 -0600
    Rita, I tried to send an email to Kevin Annett after I looked at the link you sent below. I couldn’t get through with the email he gave on his videos. Do you have a valid email address for him?
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-02-28 14:25:40 -0600
    Rita, thank you for the link to the web site of Kevin Annett. I wrote about the abuse of the native american children in my book, Smothered. I hadn’t heard of him before; there should be more people like him.
  • @pams54
    commented 2014-02-28 09:45:00 -0600
    George" yes I did" thank you. The Catholic Priest who’s name isn’t on there is, Fr. Thomas Hanley, the Priest that I would like to have arrested;" but" the Statute of Limitation is on his side" & MSGR. Cini," at the Catholic Diocese in Delaware is protecting him"
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-02-28 09:35:44 -0600
    I looked at the web sites to see where there would be the best chance of getting something done. Credo.org is specific for christians so it is limited to those people who have the same interests — it appears to be more of a spiritual help site. The other site, MoveOn is a political action site and while it looks like a petition there would be helpful, again it is just one political party and a petition there would not include people of all political parties or those with no political party. I still think the government site will get the most signatures and since it has already started the people who signed will tell others. Our efforts need to be concenrated to be successful so I will put mine towards the petition that Patricia put on the government website.
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-02-28 09:14:00 -0600
    Rita and Patricia, have you looked at the website www.bishopaccountability.org ? It names the abusive clergy.
  • @pams54
    commented 2014-02-28 09:05:36 -0600
    Marie , the lawsuit’s that the Priest are made to pay to rape victim’s " isn’t that evidence/ proof ?
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-02-28 08:48:09 -0600
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-02-28 08:37:16 -0600
    George, point well taken. Also, my concern is that unless there is due process, no one can be labeled a sex offender and since there isn’t due process, i.e., arrests/convictions perhaps we could submit a petition on either Credo or MoveOn.org that would name names of the criminal bishops and others complicit in the crimes against humanity, the innocents, the CHILDREN.
  • @pams54
    commented 2014-02-28 08:22:14 -0600
    Hi George, we can try to post the government web site on different links, and if you can think of any, that would be great. We are helping all victim’s & our families of this horrible abuse" also helping Snapnetwork with all their hard work. We want & need justice, long over due.
  • @pams54
    commented 2014-02-28 08:06:03 -0600
    Hi Rita, thank you. That will be wonderful" all of the victim’s & our loved ones" work together with each other" & expl. with Snapnetwork. who started working to get victim’s voices heard" one of these day’s the victim’s will have justice completely on our side.On all of the Catholic Priest & Nun’s who have and are raping children" to be Registered Sex Offenders" it shouldn’t matter what the rapist is wearing" ( rape is rape ).
    I feel that the pedophilia; found a loophole in the religious system" so they can take the oath and get away with raping children……..
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-02-28 07:51:47 -0600
    It’s great that you (Patricia S. and Rita Marie Kelley) are working to get this important information out there. If you are putting separate petitions on the different sites then I worry that no one site will get enough signatures. Is it possible to just give a link to the government site on these other sites so that everyone signs there? The government site is the one that will have an effect on lawmakers and has the most visibility.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-02-28 07:51:13 -0600
    Hi Patricia, Your petition is excellent. I might tweak it a little and then submit—terrific idea!!
  • @pams54
    commented 2014-02-28 07:20:48 -0600
    Hi Marie, thank you, do you want me to send it to your email ? if so" I’ll need your email addr. or you can take the info from the White House site, from the petition" and you can shorten or reword it if you want ? http://wh.gov/lUF7O
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-02-27 21:35:54 -0600
    Hi Patricia,
    I would be more than glad to get petitions posted to those sites: they are National and I am sure they would get a lot of response. If you would give me what you want the petition to say, I will get those online by the end of the weekend. Thanks for doing a petition for justice. That’s what those sites are all about. Also, there’s an international tribunal that has taken the cause globally, even to the extent of asking that Ratzinger be indited for crimes against humanity. And this is what we’re dealing with. I just joined this group and already, I feel like I am not alone. It’s wonderful.
  • @pams54
    commented 2014-02-27 18:54:45 -0600
    Rita Marie Kelly, thank you for signing the petition, I wish that I knew how to post on Credo.org, Wikipedia & all the others sites" because if I knew how I would post it . If you know how" or know of someone who has the knowledge to post the petition on all of the sites" please do. This petition is for all victims of the Catholic Priest & The Nun’s who have abused, raped children.

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