Boston Herald, Tuesday, August 20, 2002



The headline is nothing less than shocking, a violation of every tenet of the Catholic Church: “Vatican admits priests raping nuns.”


But the story, covered by mainstream media around the world, appeared more than a year ago – six years after a church-sanctioned study on the appalling abuse.


Now, as Rome wrestles with a zero-tolerance policy on child molestation, women who have pledged their lives to the church said the sexual abuse must stop.


“They’ve had this information since 1995, but the cover-up goes on,” said Yvonne Maes, a former nun who charged an Irish Redemptorist priest with raping her over three years beginning in 1985.


Now living in British Columbia, Maes said the abuse began while she and the Rev. Frank Goodall served in Durban, South Africa.


“This was a special silent retreat for 10 days. On day eight, he raped me,” she said.


Though Maes said Goodall termed the incident a “mistake,” and promised it wouldn’t happen again, it continued, with Maes at first blaming herself. But eventually, she pursued charges against him in a canon court, which found him guilty on one count of sexual abuse in 1995.


Three years later, a report on “The Sexual Abuse of African Religious (Nuns),” indicated Maes was not alone.


“Young nuns are seen as safe targets of sexual activity,” said the report, co-authored by Sister Marie McDonald of the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa and Sister Maura O’Donohue, a physician and AIDS worker for the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development.


“In a few extreme instances, priests have impregnated nuns and then encouraged them to have abortions,” said the report, which stated some priests sought out nuns out of fear of contracting AIDS from local women. In November 2001, Pope John Paul II responded to the report and apologized for the abuse.


Though McDonald and O’Donohue detailed much of the abuse occurring in Africa – often among Western priests and nuns – the researchers found it in 23 countries, including the United States.


Psychotherapist and former priest A.W. “Richard” Sipe, who has done extensive work on clergy sex abuse, has studied those cases.


“There is a record of a bishop who fathered a child by a nun,” he said, as well as other cases of nuns with children fathered by priests.


But, he said, there are virtually no statistics on the abuse and with strict rules of obedience, few nuns report the incidents.


“Women are loath to report in general,” Sipe said. “I think it is easier to convince the public that if a boy is abused, he is a victim, but if a girl is abused, she is the instigator.”


Also, said Maes, nuns and their orders are dependent on priests for career and spiritual needs.


“My order felt if I went public, the bishops would refuse to give our nuns burials, sacraments and communion,” she said.


One who will not keep quiet is Sister Rita Monahan, who in May said she was raped by the Rev. Thomas R. Schwind at a Baltimore parish in 1989 – an act he termed a “mystical marriage.”


“I did nothing wrong that night,” Monahan said.


Monahan said she reported the rape within a year. A statement by Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy confirmed that, saying,  “This matter was investigated (in 1990.) . . . According to our records, the victim was requested by the church to drop the case and was advised the suspect would get counseling in this matter.” Instead, Schwind was transferred to another parish and has since left the church to become a Pentecostal minister. Both he and the Archdiocese of Baltimore dispute Monahan’s allegation. Monahan recently asked the state’s attorney to reopen the case and they have agreed.


In Maes’ case, Rev. Goodall also remains at a pulpit, serving at a parish in Liverpool, England, where a fellow clergyman refused comment yesterday.


Yet, Maes has given up her vocation of 35 years.  “There was a gag order. The panel said it was strict confidentiality, so `Shut up, Yvonne.’ I said, `I’m not shutting up. I’m writing,’ ” said Maes, who documented the story in a book, “The Cannibal’s Wife,” in 1999.


But Monahan refuses to go, saying she loves the Catholic faith. “If I leave, they win.”