CBS 21 Special Report | Abuse Allegations against a Nun
By Jasmine Brooks
April 25, 2019
This story contains graphic content and may not be suitable for some viewers.
Since the Catholic Church Grand Jury Report was released in August, PA lawmakers have been looking at strengthening laws relating to child sexual abuse.
This woman, Trish Cahill, was paid an out of court settlement by a New Jersey congregation.
but she says money will never heal her deepest wounds.
She now lives in Lancaster.
“I'm am sixty-plus years old and I have never had a sexual relationship in my life."
Trish Cahill says instead she's experienced sexual abuse and rape – and the perpetrators were two Catholic priests and a nun.
One of those priests she says, was her uncle.
"He said, we don't talk about this.” Said Trish Cahill. “When I wear the white collar, everything is under the seal of the confessional."
She was sworn to secrecy by her trusted uncle and the family patriarch, and Cahill says she was first molested at 5 years-old in New Jersey.
She remembers the details of that church visit with her uncle vividly.
"He lifted me up on the altar at Mount Carmel in Ridgewood and he raped me on the altar. That was the first time."
She says the abuse went on until her freshman year of high school.
"I remember being in the bathroom at the Catholic High School where I went. I remember being with a friend of mine and I was pale and they made someone go to the bathroom with me. I asked her to look in the toilet bowl because what I was seeing I didn't recognize."
Cahill believes she had a miscarriage.
She said her mother drove her to the hospital but would never *talk* about the medical procedure that was done that day.
"Silence-- they need to talk about it” said Jessica Castle with Family Design Resources. “They need to have safe spaces that are created to have these conversations and they're uncomfortable conversations."
Castle works at Family Design Resources --on behalf of children who have experienced trauma.
"Had it been in a healthy way by a trusted friend or a trusted adult, she could have gotten the support, help and attention that could have helped her heal" Castle said.
Instead, that trusted adult was a nun, and her next perpetrator.
The two met at a New Jersey convent when Cahill was 15. She was hoping to one day become a nun herself.
"You're talking about the late 60’s, and early 70s when that's such a taboo subject it need to be hidden, it was shameful. It was sin, a mortal sin. You go to hell for that."
Cahill said she got more attention from that nun than her own parents.
"The first time it was sexual, she told me that I seemed anxious and she gave me a cup of tea. I didn't know that there were tranquilizers crushed up in it. She told me it would relax me and it did. She took my hand and led me into the bedroom."
Cahill says the two spent a lot of time together. During a weekend trip to the shore with that nun, she says she was raped by another priest.
"It often does not start as physical. It's starts as violating boundaries in other ways, special attention. You hear people typically, like buying special things for them."
Alexa Livelsberger is an advocate for sexual assault victims with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
"It's this very subtle violating of boundaries” Alexa Livelsberger said. “Almost making a child believe that they are consenting."
"I was confused no doubt. She told me I was a lesbian. I'm not a lesbian” Cahill said. "I didn't want this, but I also didn't want to be violently, brutally, painfully raped by a male."
"Because the nun was in a position of power, the survivor was never in a place where she was able to consent."
At 27-years-old, Cahill checked into rehab for drug and alcohol abuse and shared her story with her sponsor.
"I told them that I was in this sexual relationship with a nun and they said ‘how old was she?’ I am like she was 36 when it started and I was 15. She's like that's not a sexual relationship, that's rape, sexual molestation, sexual abuse. She's a pedophile."
Cahill says the damage to her sexuality was done.
"I was not sexual. I did not date. I was not attracted to women and I was petrified of men."
"It's almost like your brain says danger, right?” Livelsberger said. “I see someone who looked the person who harmed me; danger."
Livelsberger says everyone reacts differently to trauma.
"So for some people, that might be a coping mechanism. They might think maybe my body doesn't feel like my body and so I am going to maybe act out in sexual ways, I don't really care about myself and so I am going to act out in those ways."
For Cahill, it was very much the opposite.
"I didn't have a sexuality that I was aware of. I thought I was supposed to have a sexuality."
But she hasn't lost hope.
Today, Cahill is an advocate for sexual abuse victims. By telling her story and writing online through her alias, “PK-Hill”, she hopes to help others heal.