Questions raised over handling of nun abuse
Woman told Morris-based order she was molested by a sister who
is an administrator
By Abbott Koloff
Published on 10/24/2004
Patricia Cahill, who says she was abused by a nun when she was a child,
reached a settlement with the Morris Township-based Sisters of Charity years
ago. The nun still is working with the Church as administrator of the Caritas
Community, a retirement home for nuns in Jersey City. Bob Karp / Daily Record
Patricia Cahill says she was sexually abused by a nun when she was a child. As an
adult, she says she went to at least a couple of officials with the Morris
Township-based Sisters of Charity and told them about the abuse. She says nothing
happened for a couple of years.
Then she called a lawyer.
More than 10 years after the Sisters of Charity paid her $70,000 in an out-of-court
settlement, Cahill said she still is trying to come to terms with her alleged abuse.
She said she has battled drug and alcohol addictions much of her life but has been
sober for the past year. She has been out of work for the past three years.
"My life has been in a spiral," said Cahill, 52, who now lives in Lancaster, Pa.
Eileen Shaw, the nun who allegedly abused her, was removed as principal of a
Catholic elementary school in Paramus 10 years ago when the Sisters of Charity say
they became aware of the allegations. At first, the order's officials would not say
last week what happened to Shaw after that -- until it was pointed out to them that
her job description is on their Web site.
Shaw, 71, is listed as administrator of the Caritas Community in Jersey City, a
retirement home for nuns.
"The situation was dealt with appropriately and according to our procedures and
policies," said Maureen Shaughnessy, the general superior of the Sisters of Charity
at Convent Station.
Some victims' advocates say those policies -- and policies of other orders -- are
not as clear as those established by American bishops to deal with abusive priests.
The bishops, when they met in Dallas in 2002, agreed to a charter designed to
protect children that requires priests credibly accused of sex abuse to be placed on
administrative leave. It requires priests found guilty of abuse to be formally
removed from the priesthood or to live a life of penance and never again identify
themselves as priests.
But the Dallas Charter only applies to dioceses, not to religious orders of priests
That leaves what appears to be a gray area in rules governing how the church deals
with accused sex abusers.
A Caritas Web site says nuns who live there are active and participate in the parish
life of St. Joseph's Church, which is next door. They also volunteer at the church
school -- although church officials say that Shaw does not do that kind of work.
Sisters of Charity officials said Shaw is not in a public ministry and that she
deals mostly with other nuns.
Newark Archdiocese officials said last week that they would not allow Shaw to work
in a public ministry. But they apparently have no say over whether Shaw represents
herself as a nun, even when she attends church in one of their parishes.
"It's the community's (Sisters of Charity's) responsibility to say what she can and
can't do within the community," said James Goodness, a spokesman for the Newark
While church experts say orders of priests have been establishing rules similar to
the Dallas Charter, they say it's not clear what orders of nuns have been doing. The
Sisters of Charity agreed last week to make their policies public. They call for
certain actions to be taken when abuse allegations are made, including removal of
accused nuns from places where they could harm children. However, they leave more
room for discretion than the Dallas Charter.
Catholic dioceses typically make public the names of review board members who
examine cases of alleged abuse. The Sisters of Charity would not identify members of
their sexual abuse response team. Dioceses typically publicize actions taken against
priests found guilty of abuse. The Sisters of Charity policies call for their
actions to be made known to members of their community but adds this qualifier: "as
soon as it is deemed appropriate."
The policies are less specific about informing the accuser and say nothing about
making actions public.
"People make the assumption that everyone falls under the Dallas Charter, but that's
not the case," said Landa Mauriello-Vernon, 30, of Connecticut, who coordinates
activities related to abuse by nuns for the national Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
"The orders of nuns don't fall under any (national) policy. I don't think the nuns
are going to do anything until they are forced to confront the issue publicly.
They've been under the radar."
Shaughnessy said her order wants to be compassionate but added that being a nun is
different than being a priest. That is why, she said, some of her orders' policies
differ from the Dallas Charter.
"That's a different situation," she said. "We're not the same as diocesan priests.
She (Shaw) is a member of a community. This is a situation that troubles all of
us. We are careful about where we place people. I think we have done that with
Victims advocates said they have a problem with Shaw representing herself as a nun,
particularly since she holds a position of authority in a community that has an
informal connection with a parish.
"We think nuns should be treated the same as priests," said Barbara Blaine of
Illinois, the founder of SNAP.
"They should not remain in ministry. When you hold yourself out as a religious
authority, people give you deference. It was the abuse of that power that was
devastating to victims."
SNAP officials say abuse allegations filed against nuns have become a bigger issue
over the past year -- with the number of SNAP members saying they were abused by
nuns growing from about a dozen to more than 100 out of a national membership of
Cahill said she was 16 years old in 1968, and living in Ridgewood, when she met
Shaw, who was working as a teacher at a nearby parochial school. Cahill said she had
been abused by her uncle, a priest with the Camden Diocese, when she was 5, and that
abuse continued for eight years.
She said Shaw seduced her with praise, telling her she was a good guitar player when
she barely knew how to play. She said she was sexually abused in a number of places,
including the Xavier Center in Convent Station, a Sisters of Charity retreat. She
said nuns let her in through a back door at a Glen Rock convent and watched her go
upstairs. She said Shaw gave her alcohol and tranquilizers to relax her. She said
she went on trips with Shaw, staying at a Shore house with other nuns.
"They never asked what we were doing," Cahill said.
Shaw did not respond to a message left at Caritas.
Cahill said she continued to have a relationship with the nun as an adult when she
worked as a teacher in Kearny at St. Cecilia School, which no longer exists, where
Shaw was principal. She said Shaw told her not to go out with men and discouraged
friendships with other teachers. Cahill said she drank, did drugs and felt so
isolated that she considered suicide. She left St. Cecilia in 1975 but didn't end
her relationship with Shaw for another four years.
"I needed to get away from her," Cahill said.
Cahill said she went to work for Shaw again in 1979, at Visitation Academy, a
parochial school in Paramus. She said her alcohol problems got worse.
"I was drinking on the way to school," Cahill said.
Cahill said she broke off her relationship with Shaw after she joined a 12-step
program in 1979. She worked in Germany, at an Army school for a few years and then
came home. She said she got back together with Shaw in 1990 but broke off their
relationship a couple of years later when she said she began to recognize it as
Cahill also said she decided that she wanted to become a nun, a member of the
Sisters of Charity. She said that's when she told at least two sisters about her
She said she went to Sister Francis Raftery, then a provincial leader and now
president of the College of St. Elizabeth in Florham Park. She said she told Raftery
that she couldn't work in the same province as Shaw. She said Raftery told her that
she would get back to her, but maintains that she never did.
Raftery declined to be interviewed for this story but made a brief statement through
a St. Elizabeth's spokeswoman.
"She (Raftery) had no official interaction with this person at the time and has
(had) no further interaction," said Jenene Hirsch, the spokeswoman.
Cahill said she then went to Sister Judith Mertz, now in charge of a women's center
in Elizabeth. She said she showed Mertz a letter, dated July 1992, that she wrote to
Shaw telling her that she was in therapy and detailing her abuse. She said Mertz
told her that she would get back to her.
"I never heard another word about it," Cahill said.
Mertz declined to comment for this story.
Two years later, in 1994, Cahill went to an attorney who contacted the Sisters of
Charity. Shaughnessy said Shaw was removed immediately after the attorney made
contact and the leadership was told about the allegations. She said the order
informed the Newark archbishop -- Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, now a cardinal in
Washington, D.C. -- who confirmed that last week. Shaw was removed from Visitation
by the start of the 1994-95 school year, according to church records.
Shaughnessy wouldn't comment on Cahill's claim that she told Raftery and Mertz about
the abuse at least two years earlier. She said her order created policies to deal
with abuse allegations in the mid-1990s, shortly after Cahill came forward, and
those policies were updated a couple of years ago.
Cahill said she went back to the Sisters of Charity last year and asked them to pay
for inpatient treatment to deal with her alcoholism and sex abuse issues. The
Sisters had agreed in 1994 to pay as much as $20,000 toward her medical bills, in
addition to the $70,000 settlement, but they set a two-year time limit on that
benefit. They turned down her request.
"She was given an answer as to why not," Shaughnessy said.
Shaughnessy told Cahill in a letter late last year that the legal settlement stands,
that nothing has changed. Cahill argued that things had changed, that her life and
her alcohol problems had become more severe at the time she went to the order. The
order's policies say that it will pay for counseling for both victims and
perpetrators. Shaughnessy would not say last week whether the order continues to pay
for treatment for Shaw.
Cahill also was turned down a couple of years ago when she asked the Camden Diocese
to pay for inpatient treatment. She said a diocese attorney told her that she was
denied because her alleged abuse by a priest was at least partly a family matter.
She said she had been molested by her uncle, the Rev. Daniel Millard, who worked at
St. Maurice Parish in Brooklawn and who died 31 years ago.
Camden Diocese officials said last week that, while they denied inpatient care, they
paid $6,000 of therapy bills for Cahill and have offered to pay more. Cahill said
that while diocese officials agreed to pay some therapy bills, they haven't paid all
they promised. Camden church officials said last week that they plan to meet with
Cahill said she's been doing better during the past year. She attributes her
sobriety to attending support group meetings and has started a SNAP chapter in the
Harrisburg, Pa., area. She said she wanted to go public with her story to help
others come forward, and to break through some of the secrecy that she said
surrounds orders of nuns. She said she is writing a book about it and has been
speaking at SNAP and other group meetings nationwide.
Victims' advocates have complained about the way that bishops have implemented the
Dallas Charter but say women's religious orders are even further behind in dealing
with sex abuse. They say secrets were a big cause of the national scandal in the
Catholic Church that began more than two years ago. They say the way nuns handle
allegations of abuse, although the numbers have been relatively small compared with
priests, could be the next big issue facing the church.
SNAP officials recently met with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and
asked its leaders to put notices on their Web site to help victims report abuse.
Then they asked for a list of orders that belong to the conference.
Sister Annmarie Sanders, a spokeswoman for the LCWR, said her organization
represents 450 orders, but that the membership list is not given out to the public.
She said it was an internal document.
"We thought that was an easy way for them to say 'yes' to something,"
Mauriello-Vernon said of the request for a membership list.
LCWR officials told them that they'd get back to them on all of their requests,
including the membership list, by late November.
Abbott Koloff can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 989-0652.