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Nun child abuser hid behind veil of service.

As a little girl, I found trust and comfort in the religious women who swished across my path offering care and compassion. Educators for the most part, they provided a strength to the structure in a child's world.

Then the walls came tumbling down.

A religious woman -- a family friend and a summer guest in our home -- brought the unthinkable into my child's world: the trauma of sexual abuse. Clothed as one whose heart belonged to God, she hid behind the veneer of personal concern and practiced pedophilia with terrifying success and typical lack of suspicion.

Well-honed social skills and a life committed to God, community and ministry belied the dangers lurking just below the surface. When opportunity appeared in the form of a child, she seized it. The threats and warnings of male pedophiles to their victims became her message to me: No one would love me; no one would believe me if I told; she would do this to my sister if I refused. She manipulated with untiring zeal.

She maintained cordial relationships with my family, played touch football with us, swam with us, shopped with us. But at night, when the bedroom door creaked open, she became my tormenter. Her actions violated the most sacred essence of a person -- physically, sexually, emotionally and psychologically. And yet, so expertly had she drawn that veil of secrecy that even repeated attempts to combat it failed: "How could you say that about sister?! That's a disgusting thought! How dare you!" And even later, as a young adult, I heard, "No woman would do that!" -- as if I'd imagined it all.

As a female and a religious, my abuser bore a twofold protection. The woman-child bond is sacred in our society, and religious are trusted adults. The reality of a religious woman's practicing pedophilia was almost too shocking to be believed, much less accepted. Even now, after sensationalist coverage by the media and recognition from the church hierarchy, the focus has been on religious males' sexual deviance with boys, not on religious women's deviance with girls.

Like so many victims, I had to live with the nightmares, be haunted by the experience. I diminished myself, denied reality, dared not trust. I found safety in an inner world and tried to live the contradictions. In an act I now find courageous, I confronted her and terminated the relationship. I was in my late teens. Her protestations of genuine care and concern, so characteristic of the pedophile, meant nothing to me. I had known the fear of her, dreaded the pain of her indignities and abuses, the extent of her power. I had given up the search for someone who would believe me.

She continued to visit my family long after I'd left home. She tracked my movements through my relatives and stopped by during my own infrequent visits home. My loathing grew. In my late 20s, I could bear the secret and the silence no longer.

Confrontation brought denial, typical of pedophiles. A twisted tale of grief emerged. Like so many male pedophiles, she had grown up in a highly dysfunctional family and suffered severe abuse at the hands of her own mother. She had abused alcohol and developed other norms of illness. Her social relationships were a facade, guarding against genuine intimacy. Her needs for self-gratification left a trail of tragedy in other lives.

And now, having worked hard at sorting out the puzzle and peering deeply into my memory, I am amazed at my own need to tell my story. I see the words and feel the memories and realize with a swell of anger that I am not the only one. There are other children, other sufferings.

But because there is so little impetus to examine the deviance of women within our society and church, those children remain invisible, their suffering unmitigated and unseen. And the acts of deviance remain a tragedy unexplored. Healing for either the innocent or the abuser seems a near impossibility under these circumstances. And human experience remains uncorroborated by sharing, condemning the wounded to a deeper loneliness.

The wonder and mystery of life is too precious to lose to the haunting specter of abuse or to the silence that surrounds sexual deviance. A single voice raised defining a single person's experience dares the truth to be told. And it invites the healing hand of Jesus to be raised, begs for the power from him so that the dignity of our human condition can be restored and the journey toward him can be continued unencumbered by the cycle of abuse. With God, all things are possible.
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Title Annotation:victim's narrative
Author:MacLeod, Annmarie
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Apr 23, 1993
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