Inside the horrifying, unspoken world of sexually abusive nuns
It’s the line from Scripture that stayed with Cait Finnegan for nearly half a century as she tried to suppress the painful memories of the sexual abuse she says she suffered at the hands of her Catholic clergy educator.
“God is Love,” Sister Mary Juanita Barto told Finnegan as she repeatedly raped her in classrooms at Mater Christi High School in Queens in the late 1960s.
The abuse began when Finnegan was 15 and continued throughout her high school years — on school buses to out-of-town sporting events, at religious retreats in upstate New York, at Finnegan’s childhood home in Woodside and at a Long Island convent.
“She was obsessed with me 24 hours a day,” Finnegan, now 67, told The Post. “The woman owned me.”
After graduating high school in 1969, Finnegan struggled to deal with the abuse and tell her story, but her efforts fell on deaf ears.
“Nobody wanted to hear about the Vestal Virgins back then,” she said.
But after Pope Francis recently made the bombshell admission that some nuns were abused by priests and even used as sex slaves, dozens of Catholics have come forward to report a tangential, and just as evil, phenomenon — sexual abuse by nuns.
“This is the next big thing for the church — the biggest untold secret,” Mary Dispenza, a director at Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a St. Louis-based advocacy group.
“In the past, victims were very much ashamed and afraid to tell their stories, but they are starting to come forward and we are expecting that this may be as big as the priest abuse scandal.”
The group has heard from 35 people in the last several days who claim they were physically and sexually abused by nuns, said Dispenza, a former nun who claims she was abused as a young girl by both a priest and a nun. Finnegan told The Post she approached SNAP for support a few years earlier.
Dispenza, 78, has fought for more than two decades for justice for victims of clergy abuse and plans to take her fight to the Vatican on Monday. She and her group are demanding the pope help victims of nun abuse and fire anyone who has covered up crimes by Catholic clergy.
“We want them gone immediately,” she said.