Imagine the reaction of the thousands of men and women sexually abused by American nuns to the continuous media coverage lauding their tormenters and torturers as the ultimate practitioners of virtue. In response to the multitude of commentaries championing religious women against the Vatican, I agree with Kris Ward of the National Survivors Advocates Coalition (NSAC) who wrote:
[I]t is important and imperative that in this time and at this juncture we must say that while being bullied, being treated rudely, and being investigated is offensive and insulting, it is not on the same par as an innocent and vulnerable child’s body being raped, sodomized, forced into a crucifixion poses and made to mock the God that was systematically being taken from them in the vilest of ways.
For those survivors who have not succumbed to suicide – either quickly or slowly by alcohol, drugs and other self-destructive means – this must be an excruciating period in their lifelong battle to deal with the abuse inflicted on them by some of the “good sisters.”
It is because of the survivors and the families of those who committed suicide that we raise our voice in the midst of the discussion about the nuns.
We raise it to ask the sisters as they pray, reflect, gather and seek to dialogue in their current crisis to come clean with the sexual abuse by nuns and do right by the survivors and their families.
We believe that if five, ten communities of religious sisters had stood up, ramrod straight and unblinkingly strong when the third incarnation, let alone the first and second, of this horrific scandal burst into the general consciousness in Boston in 2002 that we would be miles ahead of where we are today in resolving this crisis – and certainly the survivors who [gave] the heartbreaking and heart wrenching testimony that is unfolding in Philadelphia after the need for two grand jury reports could have been spared.
“Sadly, his efforts to work with the Leadership Conference of Religious Women (LCWR) have been rebuffed,” David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), tolda reporter. Clohessy called for the LCRW – nuns who hold senior positions in 450 orders across the country - “to develop a national abuse policy that could be a model for the bishops and for the entire world.”
Clohessy said SNAP has repeatedly asked to address LCWR at its annual national gathering, a request that has been denied. He said SNAP has also asked LCWR to allow a SNAP link on the LCWR website and to give SNAP the names of regional women religious sex abuse victim coordinators, requests that have also been denied. Clohessy said the LCWR leadership has told him that it is more proper for abuse victims to work with individual orders, claiming that LCWR is not the venue to deal with women religious sex abuse issues.
“I believe there are a number of reasons why abuse by nuns is not in the public eye and not being addressed: taboos against believing abuse by nuns…and statutes of limitation laws which…the Catholic Church actively lobbies against,” statedMary C. Dunford, a victim of sexual abuse by a nun.
“Another reason is that nuns are not held accountable. Bishops refuse to take any responsibility for them or their behavior. Nuns are accountable only to their own orders’ provincials” and to the Vatican department in charge of religious orders, said Dunford. When the U.S. bishops first publicly addressed sex abuse at their meeting in June 2002 in Dallas, “nuns, according to Archbishop Harry Flynn, refused en masse to be included in the ‘strictures’ of the Dallas Charter. They self-govern, self investigate, and self determine the credibility and consequences of each accusation,” according to Dunford.
No one really knows the actual number of victims of religious women since, unlike the bishops and priests, the nuns refuse to cooperate in any studies aimed at quantifying and qualifying the horrific results of their actions. In an article relating the experiences of victims in bringing suit against the sisters, a Minneapolis newspaper, The Star Tribune, stated in June 2006 that a dozen victims in Minnesota and 400 nationwide (“which probably just scratches the surface”) had come forward. As regards the following excerpt from the same report, unfortunately nothing has changed.
Accusers interviewed for this story say they’ve come forward only recently because it took them years to fully remember or process the abuse and decide how to deal with it.
Sexual abuse by nuns has gone largely unaddressed and unreported until now in part because of cultural biases about gender roles and sex, say those knowledgeable about the cases. Women often abuse in seductive ways that silence and confuse victims, [St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who specializes in clergy sex-abuse cases] said.
And when abuse is alleged, it can be difficult for victims to assign accountability in the maze of 450 women’s religious orders. The Catholic Church says it has no jurisdiction over the orders….
Cases involving nuns feature complex sociological and psychological factors, said Minneapolis psychologist Gary Schoener, a national expert on clergy sexual abuse. Women are less likely to sexually abuse children, but nuns have access to children in schools, orphanages and at music lessons, he said….
Cases that Anderson has seen, most involving girls, occur “not because perpetrators are lesbian, but because they have access to and power over children,” he said….
Attorneys are less likely to take nun cases than cases involving male clergy, said Clohessy of SNAP, because “lawyers know that the deference shown to priests is even more intense with nuns.”
And most cases cannot clear Minnesota’s six-year statute of limitations on lawsuits, Anderson said….
The lawsuits against the Rochester Franciscans seek to circumvent the statute by focusing on recent recognition of the abuse and on the order’s response, Anderson said. But those who have reported abuse say little has been done to restore trust. Bertrand, Britten, Schwartz and Dunford have asked the orders involved in their cases to look for possible other victims at the locations where the perpetrators lived and worked. The orders, citing confidentiality concerns and logistical difficulty, have refused to do so.
BishopAccountability.org is an organization dedicated to documenting the phenomenon of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. If one inputs “nuns” into the website’s internal search engine, 3700 “hits” are produced chronicling the record of abuse by religious women.
While all the individual stories of abuse by religious women are as gut-wrenching as those involving ordained (deacons, priests, bishops) and religious (brothers) men, the record of what happened in orphanages to children completely under control of the nuns are especially horrendous.
Two dozen former residents (some as young as 4 at the time of their abuse) at an American Indian orphanage run by the Catholic Church sued the Sioux Falls diocese in a 58-page lawsuit filed in 2010.
Rebecca Rhoades, an attorney with Manly and Stewart, a California law firm that has handled hundreds of abuse cases involving Catholic officials and is involved in the filing of the Tekakwitha lawsuit, said she was surprised by the number of claims against nuns and the alleged severity of the abuse.
“Really it was just very perverse, very strange and the clients we have whose abusers were nuns were very, very traumatized,” Rhoades said Friday.
Other suits have been filed against the St. Thomas-St. Vincent Orphanage in Anchorage, the St. Ignatius Mission’s Ursuline Academy on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, the Boston School for the Deaf operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, and the Sacred Heart Orphanage in New Jersey, to name just a few. “As children, they were sexually molested, physically abused and otherwise mentally tormented,” attorney Mitchell Garabedian, representing some of the plaintiffs, saidat a news conference.
Abuse by nuns in societies dominated by the Catholic Church is even worse.
The UN Committee against Torture released its Concluding Observations for Ireland last June based in part on the information submitted by the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) organization.
Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries were residential, commercial and for-profit laundries operated by four orders of nuns where between 1922 and 1996, when the last institution closed, an estimated tens of thousands of girls and women were imprisoned, forced to carry out unpaid labor and subjected to severe psychological and physical maltreatment.
The Irish government’s 2009 Ryan Commission report, based on a nine-year investigation, “describes ritualised beatings, torture, sexual humiliation, and rape perpetrated by priests, brothers and nuns in church-run institutions” in Catholic church-run industrial schools and orphanages.
An advocate for Canadian orphans and Dr. Jonathan Levy, PhD, an international law expert, on behalf of thousands of Québécois orphans held captive in institutions operated by Catholic women religious orders announced they were making a claim agains the Vatican. The petition
documented accusations including use of electro shocks to punish children, child trafficking, murder, sexual molestation, torture and forced labor. The petition outlines various representative case histories and crimes committed on a systematic basis through 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s until finally halted by the Canadian government. Many of the crimes committed resulted in financial gain for the orders who received millions of dollars from the Canadian and Quebec government for warehousing so called orphans.
God helps those who help themselves
This is not to say that religious women don’t deserve the praise they have received for helping the poor and sick, especially when contrasted with the Pope and his U.S. proxies’ (the bishops’) solid backing of the global plutocracy.
Yet one columnist for the highly respected National Catholic Reporter describes the hierarchs’ recent strategy as “Control the nuns and thereby control their money.” Kris Ward wrote, “[The sisters] know, as we do, that it is their properties more likely than their policies that today are in the bulls eye of Rome. The religious sisters hold and manage valuable properties in the United States and a number of the congregations are involved in the lucrative business of health care both in hospitals and nursing homes.”
Mercy Health, with revenue of nearly $4 billion, could qualify as one of the largest corporations in the St. Louis region….Mercy has investments totaling about $1.5 billion, which earned nearly $19 million in the past fiscal year. More than $200 million of Mercy’s assets are invested in hedge funds and private equity ventures. And the health system’s executive retirement plan has nearly $70 million in assets….
“The Sisters of Mercy Health System is classified as a church and is therefore not required to file a Form 990,” the organization told the Internal Revenue Service in its May tax filing. The church “is voluntarily filing a Form 990 in a good faith effort of full disclosure and transparency of operations.”
Under joint sponsorship of the Daughters of Charity, the Congregation of St. Joseph and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet:
Ascension Health Alliance executives say their joint venture to build a $2 billion“health city” in the Cayman Islands with an India-based hospital group will bring high-quality, low-cost medicine to the Caribbean and South America.
“We’re not considering this a medical tourism facility. That’s not the intent at all,” said Anthony Tersigni, president and chief executive of Ascension Health Alliance, which runs the nation’s largest Catholic and nonprofit health system.
But the system’s for-profit partner, Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospitals in India, has cast the project in sharply different terms. For years, Narayana’s founder, Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, has promoted the idea of building an offshore medical center to serve primarily American patients who cannot afford health care in the United States.
“Cayman Islands is an hour flight from the U.S., and we intend to offer cost-effective treatment for the citizens of the U.S. and also (those) who are under-insured,” Shetty said in Narayana news release in October….
Associate Professor Leigh Turner, a health care expert at the University of Minnesota, describes the joint venture as “an odd partnership.” The Cayman Islands – which enjoys a standard of living ranked 14th among world nations – seems a strange place to launch a health mission aimed at social justice and health-care access, Turner said.
“That seems like a place where you build a private, for-profit health center,” Turner said
The Resource Center for Religious Institutes is the 2-year-old descendant of the National Association of Treasurers of Religious Institutes, and the Legal Resource Center for Religious, each of which was founded with the help of – you guessed it – the LCWR. In fact, the organizations’ headquarters share the same building in Silver Spring, Md. The Resource Center for Religious Institutes says it provides “one-stop shopping” regarding financial and legal issues facing its membership, mainly U.S. institutes of men and women religious. Many women’s institutes have substantial cash, equities and property in their own names, and their members hold directorships in multiple institutions, which in turn have giant assets.
For example, what must be one of dozens or hundreds of similar organizations, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati run the SC Ministry Foundation which is worth $200 million. Older Catholics remember when rich girls attended only the “finishing schools” operated by nuns. The value of their convents, schools and other properties in these very wealthiest of locales would be mind-numbing.
“Much of those tax-free assets are managed by the Christian Brothers Investment Services – about $4 billion. Many, many institutes of women religious have carefully guarded their property and funds.”
It is their extraordinary holdings which allow U.S. religious women to be so independent in the face of Vatican censure.
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