Woman Sues, Says She Was Molested by Nun
Detroit High School, Archdiocese Accused of Negligence
By Alison Bass
June 22, 1995
[The survivor's name has been redacted from this article.]
A Boston-area woman yesterday filed a lawsuit against a former nun and teacher in Detroit, accusing the ex-nun of sexually molesting her over six years while she was a student at a Catholic high school there in the 1960s.
In the lawsuit, [Redacted] also charges that the Archdiocese of Detroit, Dominican High School and the Adrian Dominican Sisters, the religious order that ran the school, were negligent in letting the alleged sexual misconduct occur.
[Redacted], who lives in a western suburb of Boston with her husband and [redacted] children and teaches writing at [redacted], said she filed the lawsuit to "help bring the church to a new level of honesty and accountability."
"Surely you can imagine how daunting it is for me to confront the Church, even now," said [Redacted], 44, who grew up in a devout Catholic family in Detroit. "But every time a victim comes forward, the world is a little safer."
[Redacted] said the nun, Gael N. Biondo, began to sexually abuse her when she was a 14-year-old freshman at the Dominican High School in 1964.
It continued into her college years until Sister Mary Gael left the religious order and married in the early '70s, the suit says.
[Redacted] said the abuse, which included kissing, fondling and oral sex, devastated her emotionally and hampered her ability to lead a productive, happy life.
A spokeswoman for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, the religious order that Biondo served with, said yesterday they were "saddened to learn about these accusations."
"The congregation hasn't received any formal papers, but I know there will be a dialogue so that the truth can come out and the appropriate action taken," said Lorraine Wesolowski, director of communications for the order in Adrian, Mich.
Wesolowski said she knew of no other complaints against Biondo or any other lawsuits alleging abuse by nuns in that religious order.
The Archdiocese of Detroit, which employs nuns from the Dominican order in its schools and churches, referred all comment to Wesolowski. Biondo, who lives in the Detroit area, declined to comment.
"Anything is possible because everyone is human, and certainly, given human nature, things like that probably happen," Wesolowski said. "But I can't say this is a common phenomenon through religious organizations."
Sexual misconduct by nuns is much less common than by male clergy or other types of professionals, according to Gary Schoener, executive director of the Walk-in Counseling Center in Minneapolis and an authority on such abuse.
"We've consulted in more than 3,000 cases of sexual misconduct involving professionals, and a few hundred of those involved religious clergy," Schoener said. "Of those cases, about 20 involved nuns and young girls."
Schoener said that cases of same-sex sexual abuse involving a nun and a girl are much less likely to be reported to the authorities than those involving male clergy.
"In same-sex misconduct, there is a greater stigma and sometimes a young woman and man has more trouble talking about it," Schoener said.
She said "young girls are not expecting a sexual approach from a woman. What they've been warned about are approaches from men. So young girls often don't even know how to describe or name the problem."
In her lawsuit, filed in the Wayne County Circuit Court, [Redacted] said she was confused and frightened when Sister Mary Gael, who was then 38 and whom she viewed as a "second mother," began making sexual overtures to her.
Most of the sexual misconduct occurred in the high school, the St. Lawrence Convent where the nun was later posted, and once in the school chapel after a praying session, she said.
"Have you ever heard of a Catholic kid who got away with saying no to a nun?" [Redacted] said, explaining why she allowed the sexual contact to continue.
"You have to understand that when this happened, I was a devout and trusting teen-ager and she was my English teacher, my mentor and a nun with all the authority that accrued to her," she said.
[Redacted] said she only recently made the connection between her experiences with Biondo and the emotional problems she has had in adulthood.
"I never forgot what happened to me," said [Redacted], who has been married for 23 years. "But to acknowledge the level at which she was taking advantage of me took a long time - it was devastating."