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Up tp 40% of nuns have been abused by priests

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Thousands of US nuns abused by priests: study

January 6 2003

Up to 40 per cent of nuns in the United States have been sexually abused, often at the hands of a priest or another nun, according to an independent study.

The survey - conducted by researchers at St Louis University and partly paid for by several orders of Catholic nuns - was completed in 1996 but kept under wraps because some Catholic officials feared the information would create a scandal.

It was reported yesterday in the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

Nearly one in five of the respondents reported being sexually abused as a child. While most of the abuse came at the hands of a male family member, about 9 per cent of the abuse was perpetrated by a priest, nun or other member of the clergy.

The survey, of 1164 nuns representing 123 religious orders, showed that about 34,000 US nuns may have suffered some form of sexual abuse. Many of them said they were left with feelings of anger, shame, anxiety and depression, and some said they had attempted suicide.

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"These women have been the stalwarts of the church for centuries, and a significant percentage of them have been victimised as a result of the structure of the very institution to which they have dedicated their lives," said John Chibnall, a research psychologist and associate professor at St Louis University, who co-authored the study.

Another researcher, Ann Wolf, said the issue had received far too little attention from the Catholic hierarchy. "The bishops appear to be only looking at the issue of child sexual abuse, but the problem is bigger than that," she said.

The researchers said the figures were likely to underestimate the phenomenon of sexual victimisation of nuns.

"The fear and pain of disclosure would be sufficient enough to discourage responding in some sisters," the paper quoted the study as saying.

Agence France-Presse

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