National Public Radio
May 30, 2019
By Laura Benshoff
When Trish Cahill was 15, she received an unexpected request. A nun who taught at a Catholic high school near her home in Ridgewood, NJ., called her at home and invited her to perform at an upcoming ‘hootenanny’ mass.
“This was [the] 1960s, you know. Peter, Paul and Mary and all that,” said Cahill. “I didn’t really play guitar, but a nun — a nun! — asked me to.”
Cahill grew up in an Irish Catholic family and attended parochial schools. As invitations from the nun kept coming, she said she felt flattered by the attention and her family welcomed the nun into their home.
Then, during an outing to a house at the Jersey shore, Cahill said the nun gave her tea laced with intoxicants.
“She took me into the bedroom and I passed out,” said Cahill. “I was not conscious. I was not able to make a decision.” She said this was the first time the religious sister sexually assaulted her, and the start of an abusive dynamic that would last for more than a decade.
Similar sexual abuse allegations against Catholic clergy have been in the public eye for decades. In spite of this, victims of sexual misconduct by nuns, such as Cahill, say their claims have been swept aside in the larger reckoning around sexual abuse by male Catholic leaders.
That’s in part because church leadership has historically treated misconduct by diocesan priests as separate from accusations against members of religious orders, both male and female. Survivors also say the lack of awareness that nuns commit sexual abuse can make it harder to come forward.
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