Catholic priests have become synonymous with “abuse” in recent years, but they’ve never been the only people of the cloth guilty of inflicting physical and emotional pain on innocent victims. Seldom talked about are the rarely maligned women of the Church: sisters who intentionally abused fellow nuns behind convent walls. Nun abuse is that other dirty little secret of the Catholic Church—and it’s a secret that affected, and crushed, the spirits of scores of young women. My mother was one of them.

My mother entered the convent in the fall of 1957 at the age of 21, determined to save the world through her faith. She left nearly a decade later, beaten down physically and mentally, emaciated and fragile. On the early morning in which she finally exited, her head was bald in patches, owing to the hatchet-job-style haircuts the convent had subjected her to for years. She had no civilian clothes to wear—having given all of her worldly possessions up upon entering the convent—and so was forced by a pair of presiding nuns to wear ill-fitting clothing that she said smelled and a pair of mismatched shoes. She shook uncontrollably. Worst of all were her eyes. Her large brown eyes, wide and excited when she’d entered the convent, went listless and flat. In the words of my uncle, my mother’s youngest brother, who was horrified at the sight of her the morning she returned to their childhood home, “She looked like a mangy dog. A beat-up, mangy dog.”

“It was those nuns,” my uncle said, growing angry. “They were supposed to protect her, but they did just the opposite.”

Nun abuse remains little talked about in the church. There are a few studies that have been conducted, including one in 1996 that reported that as many as 40 percent of Catholic nuns in the United States (or around 34,000 sisters at that time) claimed to have been sexually abused in some capacity and that “all nuns who claimed repeated sexual exploitation reported that they were pressured by religious superiors for sexual favors.”

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Former Nun, Suffered at the Hands of 'The Good Sisters'

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