SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Victims of sexual abuse at the hands of nuns used a national conference as an opportunity to protest.
About 800 nuns from around the country are in Scottsdale this week for an annual conference. Abuse survivors want the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to make some major changes to prevent abuse.
Inside a Scottsdale resort Wednesday, a group representing 80% of Catholic nuns in the U.S. was singing and learning together.
But outside that resort, five protesters were spreading the message that nuns – like priests – can be and have been sexual abusers.
“They were undercover literally and figuratively, under wraps,” protester and abuse victim Mary Dispenza said.
The Seattle native herself was a nun for 15 years. But before that, she was the victim of a nun’s unsolicited kissing when she was 18.
“No one has wanted to face it but we must because you can’t make anything better unless you face it and begin to give it discourse,” she said.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis acknowledged some nuns have been abused by priests. But SNAP – the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests – say no high-ranking church official has said anything about nuns themselves as the abusers.
She and SNAP are calling for LCWR to invite abuse survivors to speak at their conference.
“That’s perhaps one of my biggest goals -- to remind survivors that they’re not alone. Because many of them have felt isolated for years and years and years,” Dispenza said.
The protesters also want LCWR to adopt a specific protocol for reporting and dealing with abuse.
“The little bit of change that has happened, especially around clergy abuse, like names being released and things of that nature, it is because of the hard work of regular, ordinary everyday people who care. And it should be reversed. The nuns should be taking the leadership,” Dispenza said.
LCWR said in a statement earlier this year that it deeply regrets the suffering the survivors went through, and that it agrees with those who are working for the healing of victims and prevention further abuse. But Dispenza says the organization cannot police itself.
“We want to bring this out in the open,” she said. “We must not forget that nuns are abusers, too.”
SNAP met with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday, asking them to set up a state hotline for sex abuse victims. That’s because our new state law extends the statute of limitations, opening a 16-month window until December 2020. The AG’s Office says it will look into setting up a hotline but didn’t make any promises.