Many nuns sexually abused: study

The Age/January 5, 2003

Forty per cent of nuns in the United States have been sexually abused, often at the hands of a priest or another nun, according to an independent study detailed in the St Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper.

The report comes at a sensitive time for the US Roman Catholic Church, which is still reeling from a year-long sex abuse scandal involving priests and children.

The survey was conducted by researchers at St Louis University and paid for in part by several orders of Catholic nuns, the newspaper wrote.

The St Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the national survey of nuns was completed in 1996 but kept under wraps because some Catholic officials feared the information would create a scandal.

The findings show some 34,000 US nuns may have suffered some form of sexual abuse. Many of them said they were left with feelings of anger, shame, anxiety and depression after their abuse, and some said they had attempted suicide.

"These women have been the stalwarts of the church for centuries, and a significant percentage of them have been victimised as a result of the structure of the very institution to which they have dedicated their lives," John Chibnall, a research psychologist and associate professor at St Louis University, who co-authored the study, told the daily.

Another researcher, Ann Wolf, said the issue had received far too little attention from the Catholic hierarchy.

"The bishops appear to be only looking at the issue of child sexual abuse, but the problem is bigger than that," she told the Post-Dispatch.

"Catholic sisters are being violated, in their ministries, at work, in pastoral counselling," she said.

Nearly one in five of the respondents reported being sexually abused as a child. While most of the abuse came at the hands of a male family member, some nine per cent of the abuse cases were at the hands of a priest, nun or other clergy member, the paper said.

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