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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  • Annette Kissell Nestler
    commented 2014-02-27 11:12:35 -0600
    Cait and Rita, I watched your YouTube videos. They are heart-wrenching. Please know, I’ve posted them, on my Fb Timeline, for you both, and have asked others, to cirrcualte.
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-02-27 04:43:27 -0600
  • Rita Marie Kelley
    commented 2014-02-27 04:23:15 -0600
    I’m wondering if credo.org, change,org, or Common Cause might be a way to get the 100K signatures—those petitions go viral very quickly. Also, Wikipedia:Online petition – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
    Because petitions are easy to set up, the site can attract frivolous causes, or jokes … These are growing in popularity and ability to achieve political impact.
    I have received/signed many re: Human Rights’ violations and other related causes.
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-02-20 22:15:17 -0600
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-02-18 12:38:42 -0600
    Patricia S.: I posted your link to the petition to have rapist priests registered as sex offenders on my blog: http://catholicchurchabusebynunsandpriests.blogspot.com/ It will also appear on my Google+ site. I think the US government’s requirement for 100,000 signatures before they will consider the petition is unfair — especially for abused, disabled and disadvantaged people who don’t have the resources to get all of the signatures. That is what I commented to the government website. Even if we don’t get the 100,000 signatures, we will still get more people to know of the issue and that is a good thing.
  • @pams54
    commented 2014-02-18 09:14:01 -0600
  • Mike Philips
    commented 2014-02-09 20:20:28 -0600
    The convent is an ideal place for women who for many reasons are unable to live a normal non celebrate lifestyle, many of these women may have been sexually abused themselves as children. Thay are protected by thier instution, hidden from prosecution, hidden under their look alike uniform, and moved from one priory to the next, and given new names.there is an active conspiracy to conceal, and deny the accusations levied upon their members. There appears to be no honor ability among thier members, only protective actions, designed to protect the catholic religion and their members, with little regard for doing the right thing to protect children. Repeat offenders are systematically moved to conceal their offenders from any critisim or responsibility. Arent their actions bad enough, but even worse is their hierarchy intentionally concealing their actions , becomes even more despicable.
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-02-09 19:45:09 -0600
    Hi George,

    Yeah, there is a page for contacts that’s linked from the bottom menu on their site. But it’s not like they are unaware of the problem or unaware of SNAP’s efforts. The have climbed on a pedestal and have the support of most of the laity to stay way up there, looking down on the bishops, rather than learning from the bishops’ evil deeds.
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2014-02-09 18:19:30 -0600
    Cait, I looked at the LCWR website. The issues they are interested in don’t include helping survivors of nun abuse. There is no way to contact them — it’s a closed club. Their leaders get their “orders” from the church hierarchy. If there ever was a good nun she left the first time she learned that a child was abuse. Those 57,000 are abusers and enablers. So they are far from “honest and respectful”
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2014-02-09 04:22:09 -0600
    There is a heading now on the LCWR website which states: “We practice honest and respectful dialogue towards peacemaking and reconciliation.” https://lcwr.org/assembly/upcoming How can that claim on their own website be used to hold them responsible for how they have ignored victims of their own members?
  • Musmanhot Aslam
    commented 2013-11-15 08:12:06 -0600
  • Marcene Magadance
    commented 2013-11-13 20:51:11 -0600
    Isn’t time for SNAP to bring the sexual abuse issues committed by Nuns and Priests to the attention of the Department of Education in Washington D.C.! Not only did nuns rape and sexually assault us they did not educate us and caused many learning disabilities. False education records were accepted by every education board .. because they were Catholic… They have always had their own real educational
    values bases on money and power.
    I will never get back what they have destroyed in my life. They certainly have more than enough money to take responsibility for the sexual crimes they have committed and the education that they did not give us.

    If anyone is interested in going to the US Department of Education with these issues, please help me form a group.
    Thank you for your time,
    Marcene Magadance Diocese of Lacrosse Eau Claire, WIS
  • Tom Silvia
    commented 2013-11-13 15:52:41 -0600
    Marcene, those of us who suffered at the hands of these nuns may have seen different impacts on our lives, but the fact remains, that they did this daily and got away with it. I only had this order for the first 8 of my 12 years of Catholic School. I ended up one summer in a seminary. and that experience, but, looking back, what started as PTSD became more like Stockholm Syndrome. I had quirky personality traits, was unable to stand up and say my name as it usually meant a beating by the nuns. I also had a very low self-worth. That all turned to anger and rebellion later, but, to this day, the scars remain. I never wanted to have children. It took years and many shrinks to understand that having a child would bring me back to those times of my childhood when I was inappropriately beaten and abused by the nuns. Some of the stuff I have come to learn how to live with, some I will not. One thing it did do was turn me to detest organized religion. Don’t let those horrible people take from you any more of your life than they already have. Most are probably dead now too. I believe that there is karma in the universe and that they are now paying for their evil actions. Take comfort in that and that the laws now help to prevent abuse like that from occurring.
  • Marcene Magadance
    commented 2013-11-13 01:14:29 -0600
    The catholic nuns that sexually assaulted me killed who I was. Then I lost 12 years of education – I could barely read and had PTSD so badly I started inhaling gasoline. I have tried to complete my college education 9 times.
    WHY does the Wisconsin Department of Education Never hold this institution morally and Financially Responsible. The Catholic experience and powerful support it receives from citizens with wealth builds absolutes not minor rules.

    They owe me 12 years of excellent education – not theirs. I did nothing to them. And this church encouraged a lot sexual abuse in families and neighborhoods. All but 2 priests were chasing girls and boys to rape and sexualize them in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. And all of the nuns I knew were running the schools and covering up for the guys – their priest – brothers. These nuns were submitting false education documents to Departments of Education all over the country. I really do believe that these women are incest survivors and that they were very ill and lost their way. But the fact remains – they were put in charge of keeping students safe and not commit sexual crimes against them. The true purpose of being a student in a school is to become well educated.
    It is time for the Catholic Church to repair the damage they did to me.
    If anyone else has been hurt at St. Patrick’s grade school and Regis grade school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, I would to give you support and receive from you. Thank you for your attention and time.

    Marcene Magadance
  • Cait Finnegan
    commented 2013-10-25 19:32:39 -0500
    Tom, I know a bit about the Sisters of Mercy here in the USA. Here’s a bit of info on them if you care to read through.

    The thing to keep in mind regarding that community is that it was not universally governed by a central authority. The community was founded with the hope of being very small communities serving independently in their local parishes, in old Celtic spiritual models. However, Roman bishops forced them into a more hierarchical model of a superior general (motherhouse) over many convents—like most orders. Here in the USA, the Mercies chose one of two directions. Half went with what was called “the union” which amounted to provinces including many areas and convents. Half went with a more localized structure—i.e. by dioceses alone (sticking as much as possible with their foundress’ original desire for local autonomy). The latter were then very independent, and so their spirit reflected more of the local attitude regarding religious life (which also included how educated the sisters were, which CAN translate into less abuse). One group might consist of sisters who had little education—right up to their superiors, while another group (in a different diocese) had members who might have come primarily from educated Catholic families where religion was daily life AND sincere, and not just an empty cultural inheritance. THAT translates into how the individual sisters were spiritually formed, what behavioral expectations were, and whether they were truly spiritual or simply living in a safe haven away from the world. Each group was independent/diocesan in the latter half of Mercies, and that offered both good and bad possibilities depending upon the emphasis in their formation and religious life.

    I was educated by Sisters of Mercy in the Brooklyn Diocese. They were part of those non-union Mercies (it sounds funny, but has nothing to do with “unions” as commonly understood). I had them for 12 years, during which I was sexually molested by one of them for a period of 4 years. I, myself, entered the Sisters of Mercy at the age of 20. Why? Well, it was something in my heart long before the abuse began, and I can honestly say that although I was abused by that one sister, I did not understand the dynamic of sexual abuse, the boundary issues, and all that is involved. I also never ever came across another sister like her among all those I knew and lived with. Did others exist? Maybe. Probably here and there. But I’d only met really good and spiritual sisters and if I met those who were dealing with mental disorders like depression, they were treated very kindly by the others. I got to know many good ones. (Sadly that kept me from addressing the abuse I’d suffered, but that’s another topic.)

    What I’m saying is that the Brooklyn Mercies had a very real spiritual life and the priorities of formation were very spiritual. What was lacking (this is 40 years ago) was any attention to the reality that each woman was/is a sexual creature, and so there was no education of the young sisters regarding how to deal with sexuality when those needs arose, as they must in humans. Truly mature spiritual women turned to prayer and work and probably to spiritual directors for the strength to be chaste, while immature ones may not have even recognized the need to get help, or were too guilt-ridden by their very humanity to seek help. Those are the dangerous ones! There was no understanding among sisters of pedophilia or ephebophilia. NONE. But who among us understood those distinctions until we were educated by this horrible reality in our lives? All this was seen as sexual sin, and so it depended upon the honesty of each sister to deal with her sexuality in a mature way, or an immature way, then she lived accordingly, as a healthy loving sister, or a secretive sick abusive woman—abusing physically in classrooms, or sexually wherever she could get away with it.

    Sisters of Mercy, until recently, were very independent with distinct groups with their own populations of diverse members. Now, here in the US, they have all united to be the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, and very few independent groups left. That’s good and bad, but far more practical as far as supervision, and the formation of new members is concerned (IF they decide to get real and address sexuality and the issues that arise.)

    Today, to address past abuses one needs to contact the local group where the wrong occurred, and I think—to hold them accountable—it would be advisable to confront the “home office” of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Frankly, as one who has done so, and is still in contact, I would not expect much.

    The Irish situation was very different than ours here in the States. The British State and later the Irish State were in bed with the Church and their running of the industrial schools and workhouses. As a result the Irish State supported the investigations over the past several years. The people of Ireland had enough of Catholic bullying too, which made them more receptive to confrontation of abusive clergy and religious than we find here in America, sadly. The Irish situation has more in common with our Native Tribes and the abuse they suffered in their industrial schools that with the sexual abuse in local schools and parishes. Here is the website for the national group: http://www.sistersofmercy.org/ and here is the site for those in Northeastern USA: http://www.mercyne.org/index.php

    I’d love to see all those with cases against the Mercies pull together to address them as a body.
  • Snap Admin Admin
    followed this page 2013-10-25 18:31:00 -0500
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2013-10-25 16:09:11 -0500
    Tom, I wrote about the Ryan report that mentioned the sisters of mercy and what was happening in Ireland in my book but I did not come across any information about the sisters of mercy here in the U.S. There is another blog where several people have talked about the sisters of mercy. The blog address is: http://firetender.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/catholic-nuns-child-abuse-and-vows/ . Maybe someone on that blog could help you.
  • Tom Silvia
    commented 2013-10-25 15:43:35 -0500
    I grew up in an old industrial city in Southeastern Massachusetts and went to a parochial school for 8 years run by the Sisters Of Mercy. The things that happened there would best be described to day as criminal, things like making all the boys stand in a line and drop their pants in front of their schoolmates and bend over a nuns lap, then be administered blows from a leather sewing machine strap. I read that this religious order was prosecuted in Ireland for these abusive actions, but never heard about action against them here. Can anyone provide info?
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2013-08-27 19:37:29 -0500
    bonnie richard: the Gilbert family tried but all the local police, judges and church lawyers made sure that they didn’t get any where. They even hired a private investigator who couldn’t get any where. That is why the best we can do for these murdered children and for ourselves is to expose what the nuns (and priests) did in every type of media we can get to — so that they can’t murder any more children.
  • Bonnie Richard
    commented 2013-08-27 19:33:41 -0500
    george— try this -go to educating to end abuse .com and find the interview of peggy warren and story about gilbert-bonneau— he was murdered-in 1953 and they got a site for him justice for gilbert— but i think when they exhumed his body it was so bad off they could not fully prove it but the death cer -was forged- —
  • Bonnie Richard
    commented 2013-08-27 18:52:06 -0500
    george there is No statue of limitations for murder this nun should be arrested—gilbert was murdered in 1953—emailme at [email protected]
  • George and Jean Barilla
    commented 2013-08-27 17:31:48 -0500
    Catholic nuns do more than abuse children: they murder them

    You don’t hear about nuns murdering children because the children died and neither they nor their families talked. Rarely, a child escapes with his life or a murder is witnessed. At three and a half years old I was living at the St. Agnes home for children in Sparkill, New York. It was run by Dominican nuns. One of them smothered me with a pillow and thinking I was dead, called an ambulance. I wasn’t dead but in a coma that lasted almost a year and I am permanently brain damaged. Gilbert Bonneau was also smothered with a pillow like I was — by a nun at St. Colman’s home in Watervliet, New York. He was in a coma and died – but there was a witness who saw the nun straddle Gilbert and smother him. This eye witness who was physically abused by the nuns is still alive. He relives this evil and it has ruined his life. Gilbert’s family has tried for years to get justice for Gilbert but haven’t succeeded because of a church that knows no mercy. We will never know how many children were smothered by nuns or if they are still killing children in isolated places like church-run homes and Third World countries. If you know of children who died while being “cared” for by nuns or clergy please speak out – publicizing what they did is the only way to stop them. I have written about SNAP and their role in helping me and so many others. The statutes may run out but if enough of us talk about what happened there will be justice. I am writing about the evil deeds of nuns and clergy on my blog: catholicchurchabusebynunsandpriests.blogspot.com.
  • Bonnie Richard
    commented 2013-08-24 12:34:58 -0500
    mike—what state are you in? I can find out now— there may be none in louisiana— there is a 30 year after 18th birthday—that means for me it expired in 2001— but could not talk about it until 2004 -email me at [email protected]——i can find out thing for you—
  • Mike Philips
    commented 2013-08-23 23:51:28 -0500
    I’m a little reluctant to post names or even the location of the incidents, although it was in the early 1960s, most of the religious involved have probably passed away, and there must be a statute of limitations regarding the criminality of thier actions. I would love to contact others who attended this school, who may be able to co-oberate my charges with similar incidents. I’m sure I was not the only victim. Does anyone know if there is a statute of limitations on child molestation?
  • Bonnie Richard
    commented 2013-08-23 20:22:44 -0500
    mike philips—i feel your pain as I think you are a great hero to speak the truth
  • Mike Philips
    commented 2013-08-23 12:30:20 -0500
    For me it was 55 years ago, my life has been affected by my molestation, but, alas, my predicament is merely history. By coming forward with my story and relaxation, I am only trying to prevent today’s children from what happened to me in catholic school, to the youth who’s life is only beginning. What a horrible affliction and burden to pile on a child, in exchange for a few moments of sexual gratis faction by the perpetrator. Without a public disclosure of this problem, there will continue to be victims. I’m for CCTV cameras around elementary schools, monitored by 3rd parties. I’m for educating children, at a young age, all about the real facts of human sexual actions, so that the victims are not confused by what happened. Or worse yet, the memory is repressed and in later life, the monster re-appears in a different form. Awareness and understanding of sex, will eliminate the repressed trauma.
  • Mike Philips
    commented 2013-08-23 12:18:59 -0500
    Some or most are mentally stable and beneficial to the children to whom they mentor. But there are those who have had sexual mal adjustment from long ago, and took a vow of chastity, but thier overwhelming desire for natural sexual satisfaction, targeted at children, over took thier vows. To compound the problem, they are moved to a new location and given a new and different name. This act, by the church leadership, makes them complicit in the nuns actions. The perpetrator is now free and clear to commit the violation again. (Knowing that if they are caught they will merely be admonished by re- location) the church leadership is responsible for the on going cover up.
  • Bonnie Richard
    commented 2013-05-09 13:18:43 -0500
    AMERICA WANT TO EXPOSE THE TRUTH?? well in abbeville Louisiana there was a old convent in about 1951—that was torn down and when it was skeltons of small children were found inside walls and under floorboardsTHIS WAS A CATHOLIC NUN CONVENTEXPOSE?? MURDER TOO?? iTHINK SO.
  • Bonnie Richard
    commented 2013-05-08 14:18:36 -0500
    mike-philips—yes you are right— but in fact the president of convent and a nun from arch doicese of new orleans just said’ you have no validation to your claim of abuse- not even saying that they in fact said the nun who abused me-was in abbeville not in another parish as they told me— they even use every word to my detriment- realizeing that judy jones was right -‘they use your words against you’ but never said-we told you so—they are so kind and good to me—-
  • Mike Philips
    commented 2013-05-08 10:22:09 -0500
    In 1962 no one have believed that these religious were anything but kind, sweet, non-sexual beings. It’s time we all let the cat out of the bag. Thank you for speaking out!

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