Church criticised over treatment of former nuns


THE CATHOLIC Church has been criticised for inadequate treatment over recent decades of former nuns, priests and brothers without whose unpaid work it would not have been able to provide much of its services.

Where former nuns in particular were concerned, Mary Crooks, co-author of a newly published report, has said that “paradoxically, despite making huge contributions in their service as teachers, nurses and community carers, these women have received little to virtually nothing on departure’’.

Along with colleague Susan Powell she wrote The Paradox of Silence: the Welfare of Former Nuns, which explores the experience of former nuns in Australia.

It was prepared for the Victorian Women’s Trust, an independent body which promotes women’s issues.

As an example, it records how a former nun, “Teresa”, was left at an airport by her former congregation with a set of clothes and US$5.

“When she arrived – head shaved, no luggage except a cloth bag and her prayer book, some letters and photos, and a funny accent from years in a multicultural community – people at Sydney airport mistook her for a refugee.’’

Another former nun, Collette, left her congregation after 11 years, with Aus$300.

“She was told she was betraying her vocation and breaking her vows.

“The scarring ran deep and cost both women their faith,’’ it says.

It calls for former nuns to be properly compensated by the church.

The report suggests that it also set up a special fund to provide ongoing financial support for former nuns, brothers and priests to help them adjust to a new life.

It proposes, as an example, that a nun with 10 years’ service in the church might receive an ex-gratia payment of Aus$50,000 on leaving.

“I’d like the church to acknowledge that unjust treatment has occurred,’’ Ms Crooks said.

The report suggests the church fund to help departing religious as they adjust to life “outside’’ might have an upper limit of Aus$100,000 per person.

“Recently there has been some general discussion within the Catholic Church about extending the list of deadly sins to include the concept of ‘social injustice that causes poverty’,’’ the report states.

It continued that this highlighted “a policy and operational problem within the church itself’’.

Treatment of nuns and other former clergy by the church has been “often inadequate, poor and unjust, resulting in great hardship,’’ it says.