A 1994 study of sexual abuse of nuns was publicized last Sunday amid charges of another cover-up and another epidemic of abuse. But how can it be a cover-up if the study results were published in two religious review journals. Do they not count? Yes, the religious orders that conducted the study decided not to widely publish the story to avoid sensationalizing it, and it seems they were justified in that concern, because that’s just what has happened.
The study says 18.5 percent of nuns surveyed in 125 religious orders say they were “sexually exploited.” For one thing, a very small percentage of nuns in the US actually participated. There are over 250 religious orders of women, and of the 125 orders that participated, not all of them had nuns respond to the sruvery. So right off the bat it can be argued that the study is not representative. Second, what is the definition of “sexually exploited”? It is “any sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or other verbal or nonverbal sexual conduct that occurs when a woman entrusts her property, body, mind or spirit to another person acting in a professional role.” That seems a pretty broad definition and subjective. In other words, it’s up to the individual to decide whether a behavior was exploitative. There isn’t an objective criteria, i.e. specific touches, phrases, and so on.
The interesting thing about the study is that, taken at face value, it puts the lie to the claim that priestesses would have prevented the Scandal. The study acknowledges that other nuns were a prime cause of sex abuse, not just priests. It seems to me that if those same pervert nuns were priestesses, they would be as likely to abuse girls in their parishes as the pervert priests were.
UPDATE: Tim Shelarts breaks down the numbers.
The bottom line, going by raw numbers, without consideration of the self-selection represented by the “types of orders” in this conference, and assuming that the orders within it are equal in size (and assuming that my understanding of math hasn’t entirely degraded), is that 0.0033% of nuns involved with the LCWR claim some form of genital contact with a “priest, nun, or other religious.”
I don’t know how many orders there are in total, but it breaks down thus: .22 (participating orders) x .04 (responding nuns) x .125 (“sexually exploited”) x .75 (religious exploiter) x .04 (genital contact). (Then times 100 to make it a percentage.)
Ultimately, the broader picture could so easily go either way that it’s hardly worth debating whether the number is high or low. This story is getting much too much play, as little as it is getting.
In other words, the study is a non-story.