Faith + Values Forum: God Has Given Her What Church Hasn't
A Victim of Sexual Abuse by a Nun Has Little Reason to Trust the Church, but She Has Never Lost Faith in God

By Mary Dunford
Minneapolis Star Tribune
June 30, 2006

Fifty years ago, I was sexually abused by a Catholic nun every night for two years in a southern Minnesota boarding school. After reading reports about sexual abuse by priests in 1990, I came to understand that I hadn't had an affair with a nun -- I had been criminally sexually abused.

Many difficulties in my life and the lives of my husband, three children, nine grandchildren and great-granddaughter stem from the abuse.

My husband and I have worked hard trying to gain justice and healing for us and for other sexual abuse victims of Catholic nuns and priests. Bishops will not intervene and help victims of nuns find restorative justice. Nuns are accountable only to their provincials and Rome.

Through many communications with nuns, we learned that they do not respond to their accusers as Christ requires -- not as individuals, not as separate orders and not as organizations of leaders of orders. Bishops made the church and priests their priority. Nuns, also, protect the institution of the Catholic Church, their reputations, money, prestige and security.

After years of intense effort to secure restorative justice and healing for victims of sexual abuse (and their families) who have been used and cast away by women and men who took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; I am left to consider: Where am I spiritually?

I have major areas of anger, mistrust and shame. My shame rightfully belongs to my perpetrator and to members of her order who failed to respond justly or graciously. Facets of my life never flourished as they might have if I had not been used so badly by a woman "dedicated to serving God."

I don't feel comfortable in a Catholic Church, although pastors in two parishes to which we have belonged in the past 13 years welcomed us and went out of their way to help.

Nuns make me feel creepy-crawly, and I have no reason to believe in the "integrity" of a priest or nun, because abusers are totally opaque. Anyone may be an abuser.

There is one to whom I can always turn because he is trustworthy. He is my creator, redeemer and sanctifier. Through my years of flight and destructive living, he has never left my side. He walked with me down the alleys I slunk through, trudged the dumps I've searched, sat beside me in dark attics and basements and deserted buildings where I crouched. He has not abandoned me, no matter my sin. He is interested in whatever I'm feeling and thinking, ready to take up our conversation wherever it paused.

When I take time to notice him, he responds with welcome and relief. My God weeps for me and for every other hurting victim of sexual abuse by vowed religious. He encourages me to be my best self. He is holy, and he manages to eke out small moments of holiness from me because of his extreme love.

Because I know he freely forgives me all the times I fail to love, I know he forgives those who have hurt me by abuse or by their failure to respond justly.

Perhaps I cannot regain trust for the institution of religion and its personnel who try and fail and only sometimes succeed in loving; but I know he is always beside me, caring for me exquisitely.

Praise God.

Mary Dunford, 67, of Eagan, has widely shared her story of being molested by a nun over two years at the Villa Maria boarding school in Old Frontenac, Minn. She is a member of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville.


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