The Hidden World of Abusive Catholic Nuns

November 27, 2019

At least 20 local, state, or federal investigations, either criminal or civil, into church clergy have begun since a Pennsylvania grand jury report released in 2018 detailed abuse by priests. But while those investigations could potentially lead to the release of even more names and accusations, victims’ advocates told The Epoch Times that religious orders should start listing the names of abusive nuns as well—a far less-reported problem, with fewer concrete statistics.

BishopAccountability.org, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit corporation that tracks cases of sexual abuse by clergy members, has identified over the years “a little over 100 known accused nuns,” Terry McKiernan, the founder of the website, told The Epoch Times. Its database, meanwhile, has tracked more than 6,000 accused priests across the United States.

“The numbers are fairly small, but that’s the number that is known,” McKiernan said, referring to the number of publicly accused abusive nuns. “Its a matter of some debate how big the problem actually is.”

Some of the names of the nuns are incomplete because the alleged victims couldn’t recall, according to a list of the names published in August. More names have since been added to the database that don’t appear on the list. The alleged victims are from across the country and come from a wide array of different religious orders.

McKiernan said most of the nuns his organization identified were accused of abuse “between the 1960s and the 1990s.” One group of accused nuns that stood out came from an orphanage in Louisville, Kentucky, where McKiernan said they saw the “highest concentration” of abusers in the database.

The Epoch Times reached out to Catholic League, the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization, for comment but didn’t receive a response by press time.

Mary Dispenza, a director at the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) as well as the contact person for those abused by nuns, told The Epoch Times she was approached by 85 alleged survivors of misconduct by nuns during the past two years in the role.

“That’s just a teeny, tiny figure of the number that we think is a possibility,” Dispenza said, adding that a support group has formed that meets with the survivors monthly on the internet.

Only one of the cases that Dispenza heard about filed suit and reached an agreement that was satisfactory. In other cases, some survivors who were nuns themselves told their religious communities about the abuse and the superior removed the nun to what Dispenza called a “motherhouse,” a section away from children. But Dispenza said the nuns weren’t asked to leave unless the case was escalated to the criminal level.

“To date, no religious orders have listed or released any names about nun abusers,” she said, adding that a list placed in a parish or school could encourage people who know the abusive nuns to come forward, which could help survivors affirm their stories.

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