Survivors of sex abuse by nuns suffer decades of delayed healing

Global Sisters Report – National Catholic Reporter

February 22, 2021

By Dawn Araujo-Hawkins

Anne Gleeson was 12 years old when she says Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Judith Fisher — her charismatic, redheaded history teacher at Immacolata School in Richmond Heights, Missouri — began singling her out for special attention.

“She’d wander around the classroom, and she’d lean on my chair and press her fingers into my back. Or she’d send me a little note or leave a present in my desk,” Gleeson, now 63, said. The secret, forbidden touches gave Gleeson shivers.

She says the rape began in 1971 when she was 13, although it would take three decades and some therapy for her to recognize it as such. In Gleeson’s adolescent mind, she was simply head over heels in love with a woman 24 years her senior. The sexual contact happened anywhere and everywhere, Gleeson said: in stairwells at the school, in Fisher’s bedroom at the convent, on the overnight trips Fisher arranged with Gleeson’s mother and another Sister of St. Joseph.

To me, it was almost miraculous,” Gleeson told Global Sisters Report. “I was even kind of jealous of the ring on her finger. She was the bride of Christ — and, yet, she told me that we would always be together forever.”

According to the watchdog group, as of September 2020, 162 women religious have been publicly accused of sexual abuse in the United States. Mary Dispenza, who heads the subgroup within the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) for those abused by Catholic sisters, has received more than 90 phone calls and emails with stories of both physical and sexual abuse, about 60 of them just in the last two years.

But Dispenza, a former Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, suspects that the real total might be in the thousands. After all, there are more than 6,700 credible abuse accusations against priests, and women religious, globally, outnumber priests by more than 200,000.

But for two decades, the singular focus of both the media and the Catholic Church when it comes to sexual abuse seems to have been only priests.

Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.