|Team 4 Examines
Alleged Abuse by Nun
By Paul Van Osdol
April 26, 2002
WTAE Team reporter Paul Van Osdol examined an aspect of the recent church sex scandal involving Catholic nuns.
Van Osdol interviewed a woman who said she was victimized by a nun many years ago. The report, which aired on April 26, 2002, is as follows.
Pam Erdely of Wilkinsburg said that a nun molested her in a convent when she was a high school student.
She kept it a secret for three decades.
Now she's telling her story and is finding herself in the same legal quagmire facing those who were allegedly abused by priests.
"This is where I was sexually abused when I was a high school student, Holy Rosary Convent," Pam Erdely said. It happened when she was a student at Canevin Catholic High School.
She said that Sister Bernadine, a school librarian whose real name is Alberta Veri, took an interest in her. At first she was flattered.
"She appeared to be genuine. She appeared to be a good person. She's a nun. It never occurred to me that nuns lie," she said.
One night her senior year, Erdely said that Sister Bernadine asked her to go to a poetry reading at Heinz Hall. Joining them was the mother superior from the Sisters of Saint Joseph, which was Sister Bernadine's order.
After the reading, Sister Bernadine asked Erdely to spend the night at the convent in Homewood. Late that night the nun came into Erdely's room.
"She took her clothes off. She wasn't naked when she got into bed with me -- she had night clothes on. She got into bed with me and later on before I fell asleep she molested me," she said.
Erdely spent the night at the convent one more time. When she graduated from high school, she said Sister Bernadine no longer wanted to see her.
In college, Erdely said she started having psychological problems.
"Everyday I felt like I was cracking up. It was all I could do to survive. The pain was that horrible," she said.
It was not until she started therapy in her late 30s that she realized the source of her pain. Erdely's therapist said her reaction was typical of an abuse victim.
"The fear of the actual experience and the shame that usually comes afterward are powerful enough for children or adolescents much less adults to allow them to repress the memory or block it or dissociate from it," said therapist Gail Hunter.
Alberta Veri resigned from her position as a nun many years ago. Team 4 caught up with her in Cleveland, where she works in the collections department at a bank.
Van Osdol: "The allegations that you molested her when you were a nun -- would you mind talking to us about that Alberta?"
Veri: "They're untrue. I'm sorry, I feel bad for Pam. Thank you." Six years ago, Erdely filed suit against the Sisters of Saint Joseph, the Pittsburgh Diocese and Alberta Veri.
The lawsuit was dismissed because the statute of limitations bars any lawsuits by victims of child sexual abuse after victims reach the age of 20.
Still, the Sisters of Saint Joseph offered to settle the case, but only if Erdely agreed to sign a confidentiality clause. She refused.
"It disgusts me that the bishop and diocese office would not want to be accountable for this and try to make amends," she said.
A spokesman for the diocese said it has no control over the Sisters of Saint Joseph or any other religious order.
"They're a separate entity. They have their own laws, procedures, policies. That would be part of their internal affairs," said Rev. Ronald Lengwin of the Pittsburgh Diocese.
A spokeswoman for the Sisters declined to comment.
Hunter said the statute of limitations is keeping victims from justice.
"They're protecting the perpetrators," she said. "They're not really protecting the victims."
Van Osdol said that victims of childhood abuse who were unable to get help from the courts may soon get help from the Pennsylvania legislature. A bill before the House would allow victims of childhood abuse to sue their abusers as late as age 30.
Rep. Lita Cohen (R-Montgomery County) is the bill's sponsor.
"There are people out there, a lot of people out there, who have been victims of sexual abuse as children that need to have some kind of redress," she said.
Even if they don't sue, Erdely said that victims need to talk about what happened.
"I was silent and she benefited from that and I suffered. Now the burden of shame is going back where it belongs," she said.
Even without a settlement in the lawsuit, the Sisters of St. Joseph agreed to pay some of Erdely's therapy costs. Before she even filed the suit, she said the order paid for her to attend a conference for victims of clergy abuse.
Van Osdol said that reports show as many as 1,000 complaints of sexual abuse by priests have been registered nationally. There is no indication how many complaints have been filed against nuns, but certainly it appears far fewer.
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