Alleged Victim Says Abuse by Nuns 'Not Being Addressed'

By Matt C. Abbott
Renew America [Minnesota]
April 21, 2006

Mary C. Dunford, an alleged victim of sexual abuse by a nun, would like more attention to be paid to the victim-survivors of abuse by women religious.

States Dunford (edited):

"I believe there are a number of reasons why abuse by nuns is not in the public eye and not being addressed. Taboos against believing female abuse exists and, most especially, female abuse by nuns; and statutes of limitation laws which, after brief period of time, keep victims from bringing charges. Typically victims don't understand that they were abused, nor do they realize the extent of the damage until well into adulthood — different for each victim. The Catholic Church actively lobbies against any change in these laws.

"Another reason is that nuns are not held accountable. Bishops refuse to take any responsibility for them or their behavior. Nuns are accountable only to their own orders' provincials and to some obscure body in Rome. At the time of the Dallas Charter, nuns, according to Archbishop Harry Flynn, refused en masse to be included in the 'strictures' of the Charter. They self-govern, self investigate, and self determine the credibility and consequences of each accusation."

The following is the text of a 2005 lawsuit filed on behalf of an alleged victim of sex abuse by a woman religious.




Case Type: Personal Injury

Christine Bertrand,

Court File No.:




The Franciscan Sisters d/b/a Sisters of
the Third Order Regular of St. Francis
of the Congregation of Our Lady
of Lourdes,


Plaintiff, for her cause of action against Defendant, alleges that:


1. Plaintiff Christine Bertrand (hereinafter ABertrand@) is an adult female resident of the State of California. At all times material to the conduct alleged in this Complaint, Bertrand was a minor and a resident of the State of Illinois.

2. At all times material, Defendant The Franciscan Sisters d/b/a Sisters of the Third Order Regular, Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes (hereinafter AOrder@) was and is an unincorporated Roman Catholic religious order of women with its principal place of business located at 1001 14th Street N.W., Suite 100, Rochester, MN 55901, and doing business in the State of Illinois, in conjunction with the Catholic Bishop of Chicago (hereinafter AArchdiocese@), a corporation sole. The Order and its agents and employees were and continue to be responsible for the selection and assignment of personnel, supervision of personnel activities, the exercise of authority over various members of its religious order, and the maintenance of the well-being of its members attending schools and parishes which are staffed and/or operated by the Order.


3. Plaintiff was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family, was baptized, confirmed, and regularly celebrated mass and received the sacraments through the Roman Catholic Church (hereinafter AChurch@). As a result, Plaintiff developed great admiration, trust, reverence, and respect for, and obedience to representatives of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, including Sr. Benen Kent, o.s.f. (hereinafter AKent@).

4. At all times material, Kent was a Catholic nun, educated, trained, and employed by Defendant Order. At all times material, Kent was under the direct supervision, employ, agency and control of Defendant Order.

5. Generally, Kent's employment duties with Defendant Order included providing pastoral care, counseling, and spiritual guidance and leadership to Catholics. In addition to these responsibilities, Kent was a teacher and provided religious and musical instruction to minor students entrusted to her care, including Plaintiff.

6. During her tenure as a member of the Order, Kent was assigned to St. Juliana's parish school as a teacher until 1965. Upon information and belief, in 1965, Kent was transferred to the Mother House in Rochester, Minnesota, in response to complaints of her conduct with children attending St. Juliana's school. Upon information and belief, Kent died in 2003, while still residing at the Mother House and still maintaining her faculties as a member, employee, and representative of the Order.

7. At all times material, Plaintiff was a parishioner and student at St. Juliana's parish school, where she came to know, admire, trust, revere and respect Kent as a nun, counselor, spiritual advisor, religious instructor and teacher.

8. Kent became acquainted with Bertrand through Bertrand's attendance at St. Juliana's school. During all times relevant, Kent was Bertrand's piano and musical performance teacher.

9. Starting in or around 1962, and continuing through the summer of 1967, while Bertrand was entrusted to Defendant's care for instruction, custody and control, Kent began sexually molesting the then-minor Bertrand on a regular and repeated basis. The abuse occurred while Kent was instructing Bertrand in piano performance on the premises of St. Juliana's school and at the permanent residence of Kent, the convent located across the street from St. Juliana's school, operated by Defendant Order, and located in the State of Illinois.

10. In addition to the abuse perpetrated repeatedly and regularly in the State of Illinois, Bertrand was also sexually abused and exploited by Kent at the Defendant's Mother House, located in the State of Minnesota.

11. Defendant Order and others within the Church held themselves out to parishioners, including Plaintiff, as counselors and instructors on matters that were spiritual, moral and ethical. Accordingly, Plaintiff and her family placed trust in Defendant and so that Defendant gained superiority and influence over Plaintiff. Defendant, by maintaining and encouraging such a relationship with Plaintiff and her family, entered into a fiduciary relationship with Plaintiff and her family.

12. This fiduciary relationship with Plaintiff established a duty of good faith, fair dealing and the duty to act with the highest degree of trust and confidence. This fiduciary relationship includes the duty to warn, and to disclose, and the duty to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation by Catholic nuns whom the Defendant Order promote as being celibate and chaste representatives of God on earth. Said Defendant's fiduciary relationship with Plaintiff was based upon a justifiable trust on Plaintiff's side, and superiority and influence on the side of the Defendant.

13. Further, the local leaders of Defendant Order were in specialized or superior positions to receive and did receive specific information regarding misconduct by priests, nuns, and other agents and employees that was of critical importance to the well being, protection, care and treatment of innocent victims, including Plaintiff. This knowledge was not otherwise readily available from any other source. Defendant Order exercised its special or superior position to assume control of said knowledge and any response thereto.

14. On the other hand, Plaintiff was in a subordinate position of weakness, vulnerability, and inequality and were lacking in such knowledge. Further, the abilities of Plaintiff or her family to monitor the use or misuse of the power and authority of Defendant Order or Kent were compromised, inhibited or restricted by Defendant.

15. Defendant had a secular standard of fiduciary duty which it breached by failing to act upon, or insufficiently acting upon or responding to, information which it had obtained by virtue of their superior status, known only or secretly to its agents, affiliates, and representatives that was indicative or highly suggestive of a pattern of wrongful, unlawful or criminal behavior on its part.

16. Defendants breached this duty, as well as other duties, through inaction, manipulation, intimidation, evasion, intended deception, undue influence, duress or otherwise, as more fully described and set forth elsewhere in this complaint, resulting in negative consequences to the welfare and well being of Plaintiff.

17. As detailed elsewhere in this complaint, the acts of Defendant Order and others allowed pedophile predators, including Kent, to perpetrate criminal acts of child sexual abuse throughout the United States for many decades. Persons controlling or directing the affairs of the Church and Defendant Order allowed this by making fraudulent representations, concealing criminal activity, obstructing justice and criminal investigations, evading civil and/or criminal liability, and by inculcating parishioners to keep their scandals secret through the guise of religious teachings and spiritual instruction and counseling.

18. Defendant Order's intentional concealment and/or negligent and/or reckless failure to prevent, disclose or discover Kent's acts of sexual misconduct, contributed to Plaintiff's repression of the events of abuse described herein and prevented Plaintiff from discovering or acting upon the wrongs done to her.

19. By tradition, Roman Catholics, including Plaintiff, are taught to hold nuns in the highest esteem as earthly representatives of God, and that nuns, unlike lay people, belong to a separate and higher state in life, the so called Aclerical state,@ which they represent to be of divine origin and which they represent entitles them to special privileges. For these and other reasons relating to the practices of the Church, nuns and other persons in leadership positions in the Church have traditionally occupied a position of great trust and allegiance among the parents and youth, including Plaintiff.

20. As part of this traditional reverence of Church clergy, Plaintiff was instructed and indoctrinated as a small child to show obedience to nuns and was taught to believe and did believe that it would be Asinful@ or wrong to make any kind of an accusation against a priest, a nun, or any other representatives of the Church. Plaintiff relied upon these teachings and incorporated them into her religious beliefs and practices. Accordingly, she believed that it would be sinful or wrong for anyone to make any kind of an accusation against nuns or priests.

21. In addition, Plaintiff and others were taught and instructed that Church issues and scandals were not to be disclosed to the public at large or to law enforcement and that any such scandals were to remain strictly secret. AGood@ Catholics, like Plaintiff, were taught and believed that such issues would be handled internally by the Church, including Defendant Order, and that it was un Christian and counter to the tenants of the faith to make any public allegations against the Church or any of its representatives. In fact, to disclose any such issues or scandals could result in excommunication. Plaintiff believed what she was taught by the Church. These teachings kept the widespread problem of pedophiles in the Church out of the public arena until recently and contributed to the Plaintiff suffering in secrecy and shame, and her complete repression of the incidents of abuse.

22. The sexual abuse of the Plaintiff and the circumstances under which it occurred caused Plaintiff to develop various psychological coping mechanisms, including repression, denial, avoidance, amnesia, and other psychological manifestations which prohibited her from knowing or having reason to know that she was a victim of sexual abuse, and, as a result of abuse, suffered damages. Plaintiff did not know that she was a victim of sexual abuse, or that she suffered injury by reason of sexual abuse, until within six years of the commencement of her lawsuit. In February or March 2002, while preparing for a bridal shower, Plaintiff's husband approached her from behind and began tickling her. Plaintiff had an immediate negative reaction to her husband's action, and had a flashback to Kent approaching her from behind while the Plaintiff sat at the piano, and putting her hands on Plaintiff's genitals. Plaintiff ran to her bathroom and began throwing up. The memories of the abuse continued to flood into her mind in the following weeks and months.

23. Plaintiff suffered a traumatic amnesia, or memory repression, of the sexual abuse when she was a child. She had no memory of the sexual abuse from the time that she was a child until February or March of 2002.

24. Upon information and belief, both before and after Plaintiff Bertrand was sexually abused by Kent, Defendant Order and others knew or should have known of material facts regarding Kent's pedophile impulses and behavior, but failed to act on that knowledge, thereby increasing the likelihood that Plaintiff would be harmed. Defendant's failure to act on that knowledge also contributed to Plaintiff's inability to come forward, appreciate the abuse and resulting injuries she sustained or to obtain help for the abuse and injuries she suffered.



Plaintiff incorporates all paragraphs of this Complaint as if fully set forth under this count and further alleges that:

25. By establishing, staffing, and/or operating a church and school, encouraging the membership and instruction of the Plaintiff in this church, accepting the membership of the Plaintiff in this church, and holding the church to be a safe environment for learning, worship and spiritual growth, Defendant Order entered into an express and/or implied duty to provide a reasonably safe learning and spiritual environment. Defendant Order further assumed this duty by holding Kent out to the public, including Plaintiff, as a competent and trustworthy nun, teacher and counselor of high morals. Defendant Order breached this duty by exposing Plaintiff to Kent, an unfit agent with dangerous and exploitive propensities.

26. As a direct result of Defendant's negligent conduct, Plaintiff has suffered the injuries and damages described herein.



Plaintiff incorporates all paragraphs of this Complaint as if fully set forth under this count and further alleges that:

27. At all times material, Kent was employed by Defendant Order and was under Defendant's direct supervision, employ and control when she committed the wrongful acts alleged herein. Kent engaged in the wrongful conduct while acting in the course and scope of her employment with Defendant Order and/or accomplished the sexual abuse by virtue of her job-created authority. Defendant Order failed to exercise ordinary care in supervising Kent in her assignment and failed to prevent the foreseeable misconduct of Kent from causing harm to others.

28. As a direct result of Defendant's negligent conduct, Plaintiff has suffered the injuries and damages described herein.



Plaintiff incorporates all paragraphs of this Complaint as if fully set forth under this count and further alleges that:

29. Defendant Order, by and through its agents, servants and employees, became aware, or should have become aware, of problems indicating that Kent was an unfit agent with dangerous and exploitive propensities, yet Defendant Order failed to take any further action to remedy the problem and failed to investigate or discharge Kent.

30. As a direct result of Defendant's negligent conduct, Plaintiff has suffered the injuries and damages described herein.



Plaintiff incorporates all paragraphs of this Complaint as if fully set forth under this count and further alleges that:

31. At all times material, Defendant Order employed Kent. Kent was under Defendant Order's direct supervision, employ, and control when he committed the wrongful and negligent acts described herein. Kent engaged in this conduct while acting in the course and scope of his employment with Defendant Order and/or accomplished the sexual abuse by virtue of his job created authority.

32. Defendant Order granted Kent facilities to perform as a nun, teacher, spiritual leader and counselor within Defendant Order. Defendant Order held Kent out to the community as a fit and competent agent of Defendant Order. Kent committed the acts alleged within the apparent authority arising from her agency. Said conduct was undertaken in the course and scope of Defendant Kent's employment with Defendant Order and/or was ratified by Defendant Order.

33. Kent was acting at least in part to serve the interests of her employer when she committed the sexual abuse. Specifically, Kent was acting as a nun, as well as using the trust, power and authority of the position granted, while she was with the Plaintiff. Simultaneously, Kent used that same power and authority to gain Plaintiff's confidence and trust and to sexually abuse Plaintiff.

34. By using her position as a nun and the trust, power and authority of the position conferred on her, Kent purported to act and/or speak on behalf of Defendant Order when she committed the tortuous acts alleged herein. Plaintiff further relied upon Kent's apparent authority to act on behalf of Defendant Order.

35. Kent would not have been able to commit the sexual abuse were she not given the authority to act as a nun by Defendant Order under its direct supervision. Kent conducted her tortious conduct during her agency relationship with Defendant Order while providing religious instruction and counseling to Plaintiff. Therefore, Defendant is liable for the negligent and wrongful conduct of Kent under the law of vicarious liability, including the doctrine of respondeat superior.

36. As a direct result of the sexual abuse, Plaintiff has suffered the injuries and damages as described herein.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff contends the Franciscan Sisters Order has shown itself incapable of taking appropriate action for prevention of child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church and healing for victims who have been abused by clergy, and the Order in this instance has failed to protect the individual Plaintiff and other children from harm and has been incapable of dealing with the issue of child sexual abuse within the church. Plaintiff respectfully requests the Court to take supervision of this matter under established principles of law and equity.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff demands judgement against Defendant in an amount in excess of $50,000 plus costs, disbursements, reasonable attorneys fees, interest, and whatever other relief the Court deems just and equitable.

Dated: _____________________

By: Jeffrey R. Anderson, #2057
Attorney for Plaintiff
E-1000 First National Bank Building
332 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, Minnesota 55101
(651) 227-9990


The undersigned hereby acknowledges that sanctions, including costs, disbursements, and reasonable attorney fees, may be awarded pursuant to Minn. Stat. ' 549.211 to the party against whom the allegations in this pleading are asserted.

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic journalist and commentator. He is a columnist for and/or contributor to,,,,, and He can be reached at


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