SNAP Connecticut


Nuns Protect List Of Members

By KIM MARTINEAU
Courant Staff Writer
Published on 12/12/2004

A national group of Catholic nuns will not turn over a list of members to an advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse by clergy, or allow the victims to speak at its upcoming conferences.

The advocacy group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, made those demands to raise awareness about the problem of abusive nuns, at a time when news reports have focused heavily on abusive priests.

"All we want is to be part of the healing and education," said Mary Guentner, a social worker from Milwaukee who says she was abused as a teenager by a nun. "We are the experts. ... We can truly help develop a plan to put the healing of victims first."

A Connecticut woman, who claims she was abused by a nun when she was a senior at Sacred Heart Academy in Hamden, helped arrange a historic meeting in October with leaders from the nation's largest consortium of nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. At the meeting, Landa Mauriello-Vernon and four others asked the nuns to help them reach out to other alleged victims, by providing a link to the Survivors Network on their website and turning over contact information to the approximately 450 religious orders that belong to the Leadership Conference.

In a letter sent to the victims over Thanksgiving, the Leadership Conference insisted it is taking action to tackle the problem. The group stopped short of agreeing to the victims' demands, however, and instead, listed steps it has taken and projects it is are working on.

Among the actions being taken is putting policies and practices in place across the religious orders to address allegations of abuse, a move that began in the early 1990s. The group sad it also wants to develop a network of nuns who can respond to complaints.

The Survivors Network says the actions don't go far enough. Its members vowed to compile a list of contacts for each religious order on their own. "Nothing will stop us from finding those who've been molested and are still suffering in shame and self-blame," said Steve Theisen, a former police officer and altar boy from Iowa who said he was abused as a child by a nun.

Of the 5,000 people who belong to the Survivors Network, about 100 - or 2 percent - claim they were abused by nuns. A recent study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that more than 10,000 children were sexually abused by priests over the past 50 years. Nuns were not included in the study.

Victim advocates asked to address the Leadership Conference, which claims 75,000 nuns as members, at its annual meeting in August. The request was denied but after two demonstrations and the news stories that followed, religious leaders agreed to an October meeting at a neutral location, an airport hotel.

Mauriello-Vernon said she felt hopeful - until receiving the recent letter. "At every juncture they've been resistant," she said. "They seem determined to repeat the same cold, bureaucratic and ultimately hurtful patterns we've seen in so many bishops."



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Last Updated: October 26, 2005