A recent NPR article shined a light on overlooked victims of sexual assault – adult survivors of sexual abuse by nuns. Awareness and acknowledgement of the abuse and molestation of girls and boys by priests and clergy is growing, and this validation is helping survivors of abuse by religious sisters come forward with their allegations.
According to the NPR piece, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has recently seen an increase in calls about sexual abuse by nuns, even starting a virtual support group and offering more resources in response.
Abuse lasting for decades
Patricia Cahill spoke to NPR about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a nun during her teens in 1960s New Jersey. She talked about her allegations – as well as the allegations of dozens and dozens of others at nuns across the country – disappearing in the wake of the larger movement of addressing the issue of abuse by the male clergy.
As NPR asks, in this era of reckoning for decades of sexual assault by the church, why aren’t nuns included in this narrative? Historically, church leadership treats misconduct by diocesan priests separately from nuns. Allegations against nuns are typically dealt with by their respective orders. And, because there’s such little awareness about sexual abuse by nuns, very few survivors report their assaults.
What this means is that most diocese compensation programs will only accept victims of parish priests. However, this may be changing.
Pope Francis issues new decree on sexual abuse reporting
On May 9, Pope Francis issued a sweeping new decree obligating Catholic priests and nuns to report incidents of sexual abuse or cover-ups to church authorities. Priests and nuns will be required to report sexual abuse of minors and adults, crimes related to child pornography, and are obligated to report if they know a superior has covered up those crimes.
The regulations protect whistleblowers from prejudice or discrimination, and don’t bar them from keeping silent about what they disclosed. The decree also calls for church authorities to treat any accuser and their family with kindness and support, and respect their privacy. Victims may also request information from church authorities on the outcome of any investigation into their case.
“People must know that bishops are at the service of the people,” Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s sex crimes prosecutor, told The Associated Press. “They are not above the law, and if they do wrong, they must be reported.”
It’s worth noting this decree could affect cases from decades ago, as it applies retroactively. The regulation is set to go into effect June 2020.
However, this new decree does not require the church to report any abuse to law enforcement.
Sexual abuse within the church is unfortunately too common. The attorneys at Taylor & Ring will stand with you as you step forward, and defend your rights. We will work to ensure that the right people are brought to justice and help you come to closure. Call us today at 310.776.6390 or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation in our Los Angeles office.