Thomas P. Doyle
Sep 20, 2009
by Tom Doyle

just received a copy of Steve's message about the nuns, passed on by Bob Hoatson.  I want to support their concerns and certainly the concerns of SNAP.  I don't find VOTF's support of the nuns to be a "slap in the face"  since I don't believe it was intended to be that.  However I do agree that for the many, many victims of sexual and physical abuse by nuns, the attention being paid to the Vatican investigation and the sympathy extended to the nuns can be infuriating in light of the revelations of widespread abuse.  I agree with your support of the nuns in general because I am convinced the Vatican inquisition has nothing to do with truth and everything to do with paranoid perceptions of someone taking their power from them.  Its control!  In some ways it is as bizarre and perverse as Benedict XVI's so-called "Year for Priests."  In that case he held up as a model St. John Vianney.  If you have ever read an honest biography of the patron of parish priests you might get the impression that he was psychotic with a severely twisted concept of priesthood.  The pope and the rest of his collection in the Vatican are obviously living in a time-warp.

On the other hand Bob and Steve are 100% correct about their information concerning the LCWR's (Leadership Conference of Women Religious) response to victims of abuse by nuns.  I have had much more direct experience with actual cases than most others. My experience started in 1994 when I met the first group of victims who had the immense courage to stand up to what had happened to them in an orphanage in Vermont.  Since then I have been directly involved in three big orphanage cases here as well as cases in Ireland not to mentioned a number of cases of individual abuse.

The sexual and physical abuse by nuns is far more widespread than most people are aware of.  The nuns have been protected by the inability of most people to believe that such things were possible but I can assure you, they were possible and the reality is far worse than one could imagine. 

In light of the highly visible and vocal support of most contemporary nuns, including their leadership in LCWR for victims of social injustice both inside and outside the Church,  we would certainly expect that they would quickly respond openly, honestly and with compassion to victims of religious women.  The opposite has been true.  The religious congregations of women who have been sued have fought the  victims with a viciousness that was equal to or exceeded that of many bishops.  The LCWR has treated the  victims who have tried to communicate with them in a disgraceful and downright unchristian manner.  They have been as cold, as clerical, as arrogant and as dishonest as the bishops. 

They have refused to even consider cleaning the mess in their own house.  They have treated those who have brought the mess to their attention with cruelty and disdain. 

In my experience in this nightmare which goes back 25 years, I have met and become aware of very few priests who have shown any public support for clergy abuse victims.  True, there are many who are as disgusted as I am but they are afraid to speak out, afraid to show compassion and concern for the victims and above all, afraid to stand up to the bishops.  I used to express understanding for their plight because of my own experience with the vindictive response of bishops to anyone or anything that they can't control.  No more.  Christianity means taking risks and living with the consequences.  No priest's personal security is so valuable that it justifies turning away from the gross molestation of body, mind and soul that comes from abuse.

So too with the religious women.  Only a few have stood up to the system to defend victims of clergy or religious women and those who have done so have suffered.  Their numbers are equal to the numbers of priests.  Those who preach loudest about social justice focus their concern on other peoples' faults but intentionally deny, dismiss or minimize the harm their own organizations have caused. 

I fully agree that if VOTF or any other "liberal" organization is going to support the religious women, they/we must first demand honesty and accountability about the grave harm done by the nuns and sisters in this country and elsewhere.

Many of us have heard of the Magdalene orphans.  Many of us have seen the report of the Ryan Commission in Ireland.  In both instances the serious abuse by nuns was institutionalized...systemic...and not an accident or an occasional experience.  The nuns buried this living nightmare just as surely as the bishops worldwide have buried abuse by priests, deacons, bishops and cardinals.

The Vatican will not demand any sort of accountability in their inquisition.  Why not?  Because they simply do not care about the victims of abuse.  All they are concerned about is power and control. 

As most of you know I wrote a memo a few weeks ago about three items connected to VOTF that I found disturbing.  One was Anne Brennan's dismissal of SNAP's concerns as "their agenda."  One person who responded to my concerns explained that she and many others are not aware of the extent of abuse by nuns or of the shabby treatment dished out to victims by LCWR.

I agree that she and many others may well not have been aware.  I don't believe that excuse has legs any longer.  Vast numbers of lay people refused to believe that priests would or could sexually abuse children back in the eighties or nineties.  They were wrong because the extent of abuse far exceeded the predictions of those on the front lines at the time...and I was one of them. 

We must learn from the past and listen to those who have been in the midst of the nightmare...listen to the victims and listen to those who have walked with the victims.  This is real...not an exaggeration or a myth.  There is a deeply rooted sickness in the institutional catholic Church and widespread sexual and physical abuse is a major symptom but not the only symptom.  The incredible brain washing is a major symptom as well.....educated, professional adults who otherwise function in the real world suddenly revert to childishness when they walk into the church culture.  This emotional and spiritual immaturity may provide a certain degree of security grounded in the comfort of knowing that someone else is making the spiritual decisions for us.....but there is a downside and it is this.  This widespread immaturity, which is essential to clerical control, and here I include control by religious women, is also responsible for the emotional and spiritual devastation of the countless victims.  Blind acceptance of the illusion of integrity on the part of clergy, bishops and religious is a special kind of narcissistic selfishness.  The time has long passed where we can look aside at the harm done in the name of religion.  If we continue to ignore or minimize we assure the continuation of the mentality and belief system that enabled widespread abuse.  As it was in the past so it will be in the future.  Is this the "church" we want to be part of?  Is this the Body of Christ?"  If we don't like what we see we must take action and put aside strategies that won't work.  If we don't like what we see we can either work to change it or walk away.  It won't change on its own and waiting for the pope or bishops to change it is useless and enabling to their toxic view of their role in the Church.  If we don't like what we see we must accept the risks that go with the conviction that this "church" is ours and not theirs to do with as they will.