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
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
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