Nuns' Group Won't Listen to Abuse Victims at Conference
By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
A Silver Spring-based organization representing Roman Catholic nuns has declined to
allow several people who say they were sexually abused as children by nuns to
address a national gathering of sisters.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an association of about 1,000 leaders
of women's religious orders, said its annual convention Aug. 19 to 22 in Fort Worth
would not be "an environment conducive for listening and dialogue."
Instead, it offered to have four of its senior officials meet with the victims'
group for "a productive discussion focused on critical issues relevant to supporting
survivors and preventing further sexual abuse," according to a statement released
yesterday by Sister Constance Phelps, conference president.
"We're really disappointed," said Landa Mauriello-Vernon, 30, of Hamden, Conn., a
spokeswoman for the victims' group. "They've said they don't have time for us . . .
but all we've asked for is 30 minutes."
Mauriello-Vernon, who said she was abused at 17 by a nun at her Catholic high
school, added that group members still plan to tell their stories on the sidelines
of the convention.
"We'll tell them outside on the sidewalk if we have to, [though] we don't think that
is the best option," she said. "Our biggest hope was that they were going . . . to
break the mold of the bishops and listen to the victims, and so far we haven't
On July 13, Mauriello-Vernon, two other women and a man demonstrated outside the
conference's Silver Spring offices. The protesters said they were abused by nuns and
asked if they could address the national convention.
The protest, which they said was to call attention to the issue of sexual abuse by
nuns, was sponsored by the national victims' advocacy group, Survivors Network of
those Abused by Priests.
In her statement yesterday, Conference President Phelps alluded to the July 13
protest and said that despite "the vehicle with which they chose to initiate
communication" with the conference, it "recognized that it was important to have an
opportunity to listen to the concerns, personal stories and ideas offered by" the
The conference suggested a meeting between its officials and the victims July 27 to
29 in St. Louis, said Sister Annemarie Sanders, conference spokeswoman.
Mauriello-Vernon said she received that offer July 18, but "with work schedules and
children, the notice was just too short."
Besides, she added, the victims still want to address the larger group.
Both the victims and the conference, whose member orders include about 75,000 nuns,
acknowledge that there is little hard evidence about the extent of sexual abuse of
children by nuns. The victims say the problem has not been sufficiently addressed by
orders of religious women.
Sanders disagreed. "This is an issue we've taken seriously for years," she said,
noting that orders have set up review boards and have been reaching out to