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Reports of predatory nuns surface as US bishops meet to discuss sex abuse crisis

Doug Mainwaring Doug Mainwaring Follow Doug

January 4, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – As the nation’s prelates continue their retreat at Mundelein Seminary, praying, fasting, and pondering the Church’s problem of clergy sexual abuse, another dimension of religious sexual predation lurks in the shadows: pedophile nuns.  

Stories of abuse by nuns are uncommon outside the Dickensian stories about homes for unwed mothers that have cropped up now and then from generations past in the British Isles.  

After months of stories of clerical sexual abuse against young males dominating national headlines – and 45 states now having launched investigations into priest predation – equally disturbing tales of sexual misconduct by nuns against girls and young women have begun to surface.  

A recent report by CBS News tells the story of Trish Cahill, who as a 15-year-old confided to Sister Eileen Shaw at a convent in New Jersey that she had been abused by her uncle, a Catholic priest.  

Instead of finding solace and healing, Cahill said she was met with more sexual abuse.

The nun used Cahill’s brokenness to begin a process of grooming, plying “her with drugs and alcohol while teaching her how to have sex with a woman.”

“I'm with my friends during the day. And I'm with this pedophile nun on the evenings and on the weekends, and in the summer,” Cahill told CBS.

Cahill has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol and drug addiction, all of which she traces back to her sexual abuse.

In December, local media reported that a nun who taught at a Catholic high school in Ohio had been accused of sexually abusing a female student 36 years ago.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, a police report filed last summer said that in 1982, Sister Lisa Zuccarelli of the Dominican Sisters of Peace molested a girl who Zuccarelli had allowed to stay in her room for the night. 

Much like Cahill, the girl was seeking respite from an abusive situation at home, but instead encountered more abuse from the nun.

Former nun Mary Dispenza also recounted to CBS News that she too had been a victim of sexual abuse by one of her superiors.  

When she was summoned to the superior’s room, “I knelt down right next to her and she kissed me all over softly, my face.”   

“I want to say, ‘Oh but it wasn't bad,’ but it was. And I've carried it with me until today,” she added.

Dispenza, who now works with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said that since the bombshell Pennsylvania grand jury report, more stories about sexual abuse by nuns have begun to emerge.   

In a letter dating back to 2012, SNAP asked U.S. bishops to investigate what “America’s religious orders of women are doing and are not doing regarding child sex crimes and cover ups by nuns.”  

The SNAP website suggests: “Many abusive nuns have never been exposed or disciplined; Many who have seen, suspected or hidden their crimes have similarly never been exposed or disciplined, and; Many who were abused by nuns have coped by essentially denying and mischaracterized the crimes they suffered, and minimizing the impact of those crimes, so they suffer in confusion, denial, isolation, shame and self-blame.”

The SNAP website also offers a timeline of repeated failed attempts to work with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) dating back 15 years. The LCWR is generally comprised of left-leaning, feminist orders.

In a letter addressed to LCWR dated July 13, 2004, SNAP brought together survivors “who were raped and sexually molested as children, teenagers, and vulnerable adults by religious women of numerous orders,” parents and loved ones of those who committed suicide after being sexually abused by nuns, and those who experience “life-long afflictions of abuse which absolutely affects our spouses, children, and friends as they struggle to dearly love us and support us.”

“Sexual abuse by religious women offenders, whom the LCWR members represent,” continues the letter, “has left many of us spiritually desecrated with a murdered soul.”

Over the course of many years, the LCWR repeatedly rebuffed SNAP’s attempts to meet and address the issue.  

At the moment, there is no indication of the scope of the problem of predatory sexual behavior by women religious.  

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