"Suffering in Silence:" 3 Women Tell Story of Sex Abuse by Nun


September 27, 2008

[with video]

Decades after they were allegedly sexually abused by a nun, three women announced Thursday they have reached a settlement with the Sisters of St. Francis in Rochester.

The women -- Karen Britten of Illinois, Patricia Schwartz of Eden Prairie and Christine Bertrand of California -- sued the convent in 2005 and 2006.

The three women, all in their 50s, allege they were sexually abused by Sister Benen Kent several times in the 1960s.

Kent was a music and piano teacher. She died in 2003. The women repressed the abuse, their attorney said, until years later.

"Each of these girls suffered in silence," said Jeff Anderson at a press conference on Thursday. "It wasn't until 2002 that the silence was broken, and that triggered each of them to come together to share their stories."

Anderson said Britten's case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.

Under the settlement, Anderson said Schwartz and Bertrand together received 400 thousand dollars.

The settlement also calls for the nun's religious order to hold a healing mass at the House of the Sisters of St. Francis, Anderson said. The women said they came forward to prevent abuse to other children.

"We want to make sure that other victims out there learn that you can be a victim and also a survivor," said Patti Schwartz. "You can work through it. You can get help. You can get support, and you can reach the state of survivor and living your life in a more positive way."

"I know there are people out there who think this is shameful, and I want them to feel comfortable enough to come forward and get some help," said Karen Britten.

The women said they did not immediately plan to file a lawsuit against the religious order.

Anderson said they did so after multiple attempts to seek "validation" from the Franciscan Sisters -- were denied.

Court documents show Kent had a history of mental illness and behavioral issues. She was treated with electric shock therapy in 1967. A timeline provided by Anderson also shows that Kent was transferred several times during her career.

She served at the St. Juliana's parish in Chicago, Illinois, before being transferred to Winona in 1966. She also spent time at the Mother House in Rochester before being transferred again to a Chicago convent.

Anderson said six other women have come forward, alleging abuse by Kent, since his clients filed their lawsuits.

The Sisters of St. Francis in Rochester have released a statement on the settlement, according to Sister Elaine Frank: "A mutual settlement has been reached in this case. There's no admission of liability on the part of the Sisters of St. Francis in the agreement,"

Frank said. "As a closing chapter in this settlement, a healing mass will be offered at Assisi Heights in rochester for the victims of abuse. It is the hope of the Sisters that the forgiving, healing love of God, that is offered in every celebration of the Eucharist, will bring reconciliation and peace to the hearts of victims of abuse and draw us all into the heart of Love, that we can become instruments of God's love and peace in a broken, wounded world. We reiterate that, consistent with the Gospel values of dignity, compassion and understanding, we take all reports of misconduct and abuse involving members of our congregations, seriously. We extend our deepest sympathy to anyone who has been a victim of sexual misconduct."


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