Another Disconnect: Nuns, Sex Abuse, and Vatican Investigations

I am guilty of instantly running to the defense of American nuns after the Vatican announced that women religious in the United States had “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” Like most people, I remembered American nuns working with the most dejected among us – helping the poor, the sick, the homeless, and the fringes of society … and my junior AP English teacher Sr. Lorraine, who was in way over her head.

But I had forgotten something: The leadership of American nuns in the United States is also no stranger to child sex abuse and cover up.

Since 2004, SNAP has been trying to get the Leadership Conference of Religious Women (LCRW) to make some kind of statement on behalf of children who were sexually abused by nuns. There are a number of SNAP members and leaders who were sexually abused by women religious, and many of them feel like their plight is ignored. Eight years later, SNAP has received no response. Victims have been simply shut out of the conversation.

This week, the LCRW is meeting in St. Louis where they will figure out how they will respond to the Vatican report.

Outside of the meeting, members of SNAP and victims of sex abuse by nuns will be holding a press conference, asking that the bishops “appointed to ‘supervise the overhaul’ of their organization” carefully evaluate the cover-up of sexual abuse by nuns and secret settlements with victims.

Even I was a little shocked by what I learned. According the SNAP press release:

This week, SNAP also learned that a St. Louis man, who charges that he was molested by a nun, secretly got a $16,000 settlement last year from the nun’s superiors. The alleged abuser was Sr. Gretchen, who groped the then-eight year old second grade boy’s penis at a North County parochial school around 1969-70. (SNAP will provide copies of the previously undisclosed, signed settlement agreement.)

Similarly, nuns settled a civil child sex abuse suit in Connecticut in 2005 involving Sister Linda Cusano, who taught at Cor Jesu from 1988 to 1990.  

Catholic officials alerted no one to the two settlements. Nor did they reach out – anywhere – to anyone else who may have been hurt by the nuns. The cases prove SNAP’s view that even now, nun supervisors conceal child sex crimes by their employees. Such secrecy endangers kids, SNAP maintains.
I’ll post the lawsuit and other documents as soon as they are made available.
I can’t help but wonder: doesn’t social justice begin your own accountability to those you have hurt? Isn’t it easy—especially since the number of victims by nuns is smaller than that in the church as a whole—to embrace the victims, acknowledge wrongdoing and foster healing?


4 thoughts on “Another Disconnect: Nuns, Sex Abuse, and Vatican Investigations

  1. The Magnificat of the Nuns on the Bus

    My soul proclaims the greatness of the earth mother,
    and my spirit rejoices in the media’s adoration.
    For C-Span, CNN, and the New York Times have looked with favor on sister celebrities.

    Henceforth, all generations will call us blessed crying, “We’re All Nuns now!”
    For the Huffington Post has done great things for us
    And we’ve sold lots of t-shirts.

    The goddess Gaia pours out blessings on all who march for the wetlands
    in every generation.

    She has shown the strength of her arm at the School of the Americas
    and has scattered the patriarchal old men in Rome who dare to correct us.

    She has filled Youtube with videos about us
    and thousands like us on Facebook and Twitter.

    She has come to the help of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious
    remembering her promise to promote women’s ordination, the new age, and global warming,
    the promise she made to our mothers, women who play mass pretending to be priests forever.

    Glory be to Gaia, Sophia, and Astarte,
    As it was when we first lost our faith, is now when we’ve lost our minds, and will be forever in hell if we don’t repent.


  2. Granted that the Sisters have a big fight on their hands with the Vatican that I would very much like for them to win and don’t need distractions or publicity that would weaken them in this effort. Still, I am very unhappy that they have chosen not to be upfront about and with the children they’ve hidden in their closets. It diminishes all their other good works if they cannot acknowledge and reach out to the ones that they themselves have wounded and take steps to insure that the accused are referred to appropriate agencies and that the laity are protected from them as appropriate. The vast majority of the Sisters who are the “good gals” must deal with those who aren’t and with those who have been harmed by them.

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