washingtonpost.com  > Metro > Maryland

Nuns' Group Won't Listen to Abuse Victims at Conference

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2004; Page A10

A Silver Spring-based organization representing Roman Catholic nuns has declined to allow several people who say they were sexually abused as children by nuns to address a national gathering of sisters.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an association of about 1,000 leaders of women's religious orders, said its annual convention Aug. 19 to 22 in Fort Worth would not be "an environment conducive for listening and dialogue."

_____Free E-mail Newsletters_____
• News Headlines
• News Alert

Instead, it offered to have four of its senior officials meet with the victims' group for "a productive discussion focused on critical issues relevant to supporting survivors and preventing further sexual abuse," according to a statement released yesterday by Sister Constance Phelps, conference president.

"We're really disappointed," said Landa Mauriello-Vernon, 30, of Hamden, Conn., a spokeswoman for the victims' group. "They've said they don't have time for us . . . but all we've asked for is 30 minutes."

Mauriello-Vernon, who said she was abused at 17 by a nun at her Catholic high school, added that group members still plan to tell their stories on the sidelines of the convention.

"We'll tell them outside on the sidewalk if we have to, [though] we don't think that is the best option," she said. "Our biggest hope was that they were going . . . to break the mold of the bishops and listen to the victims, and so far we haven't gotten that."

On July 13, Mauriello-Vernon, two other women and a man demonstrated outside the conference's Silver Spring offices. The protesters said they were abused by nuns and asked if they could address the national convention.

The protest, which they said was to call attention to the issue of sexual abuse by nuns, was sponsored by the national victims' advocacy group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

In her statement yesterday, Conference President Phelps alluded to the July 13 protest and said that despite "the vehicle with which they chose to initiate communication" with the conference, it "recognized that it was important to have an opportunity to listen to the concerns, personal stories and ideas offered by" the advocacy group.

The conference suggested a meeting between its officials and the victims July 27 to 29 in St. Louis, said Sister Annemarie Sanders, conference spokeswoman.

Mauriello-Vernon said she received that offer July 18, but "with work schedules and children, the notice was just too short."

Besides, she added, the victims still want to address the larger group.

Both the victims and the conference, whose member orders include about 75,000 nuns, acknowledge that there is little hard evidence about the extent of sexual abuse of children by nuns. The victims say the problem has not been sufficiently addressed by orders of religious women.

Sanders disagreed. "This is an issue we've taken seriously for years," she said, noting that orders have set up review boards and have been reaching out to individual victims.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company