on the society feast Immaculate Heart of Mary Cause of Our Joy and Queen of the world
Dear Sr. Prema, Sisters, Superiors and Regionals, and the Church authorities of Ukraine, Russia, India, Georgia, and the USA:
The theme of this letter is sexual abuse that has been occuring within the Society of Missioneries of Charity (MC). I am copying the bishops of the countries with which the matters discussed are directly associated.
My name is Anastasia Demidova. In 2014, I suffered sexual abuse for two months at the hands of my superior and mistress, Sr. Vicuna MC, in the formation house of MC, Chinsurah, India.
When the MC leadership, Dr. Prema and Sr. Ancy of the MC learned of the abuse from the witness statement of my fellow sister, they transferred the abuser to Nepal, and expelled me to Russia. This expulsion was made under an inappropriate (for a religious order) political excuse: “Putin has invaded Ukraine, you must go”.
Up until last year (2020), since my calling to vocation I spent 12 years with the Missionaries of Charity, in 5 countries; in over two dozen of its houses, which makes me intimately familiar with the organization.
As such, I am familiar with the violations of the rights of sisters and the poor and the feeling of impunity which characterises the organizational culture under MC current leadership.
This is why, despite the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that I have suffered following the abuse, and my understanding that many more victims exist (even more vulnerable than myself), I did not consider the possibility of an official complaint for over 5 years after the abuse happened, until receiving and following direct instructions to approach the MC authorities from another Catholic spiritual authority.
When I first wrote to Sr. Prema, the Superior General of MC, in 2019, I had in mind the other sisters who might have suffered the same abuse and who might suffer it in future. I wanted to help. I write to explain the necessity of an urgent establishment of safety prevention and care, which will insure a reasonable standard for which both the 21st century and Pope Francis himself are calling for regarding sexual abusers within the Church.
Sexual abuse, horrifying as it is, occurs in every human framework - to the point that the Body of Christ - our Church - which is also a human structure, also sees its share of occurances. The unique thing about sexual abuse within the Church isn't the occurrence of abuse itself, but the ways in which we, as a community, handle it, and the difference between this and the ways in which we are supposed to address it biblically.
The activity of victims of sexual abuse in the Church, of His Holiness Pope Francis, and many responsible and spiritually guided bishops, fathers, sisters, brothers and parishioners, have contributed to the dramatic change happening in this area in the past decade. This is why the actual behavior of the MC congregation’s leadership after my complaint caught me completely unprepared. In this letter I want to summarize the two years of so-called “accountability process” which I had with the MC, and explain why I am now giving up on this process and proceeding to the next level of Church authority to ask for an assurance of safety for sisters and justice for the victims.
Since my complaint in summer 2019:
Sr. Prema, the superior general of MC, first contacted me asking “what can I do for you”. I don't know what she meant by this, but as I told her, at that moment the only thing I wanted for myself was sexual abuse prevention, accountability processes and care for all sisters - both former and future ones. The goal in writing my first letter was to ensure that no other sister in MC will suffer the same violation; no other vocation or life will be broken in a similar way; and no one else will remain as helpless as I. Thus these were my demands as I have again repeated them in the follow up letter to Sr. Prema (Sept. 4, 2019):
1. Establish one secure address - one person or several - confident for secure a direct connection, no permission needed, in case of sexual violence; ensure that all sisters have access to those sisters, including past abuse cases and current.
2. Develop and circulate letters about sexual violence and its prevention among all sisters.
3. Hold sexual violence prevention training in all MC convents and formations.
4. Offer support to past and current victims of abuse, including psychological care for those ordained and discuss compensation process for those who have left because of sexual violence endured, especially victims from poor and undeveloped countries.
5. Encourage sisters to report sexual violence.
6. Organize closed rehabilitation for aggressors, prevent the service of aggressors in positions of power.
7. Ensure that aggressors would never be in charge of other sisters, and their behavior watched and followed constantly.
9. Official reports of these and any other cases to the Vatican, to ensure that sisters-aggressors won’t be transferred between different congregations in order to escape necessary control and monitoring.
Two month later, Sr. Dominga MC contacted me, representing herself as being appointed by Sr. Prema, to be the one responsable for sexual abuse issues within the order. She has informed me that MC has turned to a canon lawyer for an investigation. She did not provide me any details about the canon lawyer, her neutrality, or the details of the process. During our conversation, Sr. Dominga went so far as to suggest that during the communication with the canon lawyer, I might want to change my witness statement to “nothing happened”. This was quite an illustration of an outrageous violation of papal orders and instructions on communication with victims of sexual abuse, which were characteristic of MC behavior during these two years. I am completely certain that in the case Sr. Dominga would have pressured any other former or current sister in my position in a similar manner, she might have submitted to this pressure.
With God’s grace, the canon lawyer, Dr. Helen Costigane SHCJ PhD JCD, has carried the investigation in a professional manner, to the point that the investigation was at all possible. MC authorities, on the other hand, did everything to jeopardize it. They did not arrange a full and appropriate access to the witnesses (sisters); they did not even care to arrange a proper level f phone communication with the abuser; and communicated with the canon lawyer mostly by paper letters, which slowed down the investigation process (in spite of repeated MC claims, the congregation does have and uses modern communication technologies, including email and Whats App in several key places). This sabotage to the process was a live demonstration of how MC’s selective sabotage of modern communication standards serves to support impunity.
At the end of her investigation, Dr. Costigane instructed the MC to share the report with me; to introduce a system of sexual abuse prevention; to submit the case to the Vatican authorities; to take measures towards the abuser; and to ensure my expences for medical and psychological treatment of PTSD will be compensated.
Looking back, It seems that at the point when Dr. Costigane began her investigation, Sr. Dominga was entirely sure that due to some kind of twisted solidarity among religious servants, Dr. Costigane, who is also a sister in another congregation, would draft a report in favor of MC and thereby effectively end the matter. This is the only explanation I can think of regarding the aggressive attack that MC has leveraged after receiving the recommendations. In march 2019, I received a one-page letter from Sr. Dominga directly attacking me and containing legal threats if I were to continue to talk about the abuse.
Later Sr. Dominga informed Dr. Costigane that in parallel to her work, MC has turned for advice to another canon lawyer who disagreed with the recommendation of Dr. Costigane the congregation, and that they would follow his advice. The MC turned to another canon lawyer, going against an existent investigation. They retained the legal services of someone who has not done any investigation, nor gathered any witness statements; someone to whom I as a victim never provided a victim statement nor even saw. Since he gave advice which the MC liked, they decided to follow it rather than the actual investigator’s. This, I suppose, speaks for itself as an illustration of how far MC’s delusion goes in the current climate of how sexual abuse is appropriately dealt with.
On a side note, since the abuse, I was blessed to have an enormous support system from my friends and professionals with whom I work in the field of psychological trauma reparation, including at the time of receiving the threatening letter. If not for this, I wouldn't be here after such a letter. Attacking and threatening a victim of sexual abuse with another persecution (spiritual abuse) is life-endangering, and my heart bleeds thinking of other sister - victims, whom Sr. Dominga MC, the “safe adress” one, or other authorities have attacked in a similar manner.
Dr. Costigane was appalled by the threatening MC letter, and called MC authorities to immediately claim violation of canon procedures and papal orders, and to share the canon investigation report with me. Only after this demand did I get the actual report.
For the information of all sisters in the MC congregation, these are the recommendations of Sr./Dr. Helen Costigane SHCJ PhD JCD, which were supposed to be implemented throughout the congregation to ensure the safety of the sisters and accountability of the congregation and the abusers:
“In relation to other possible instances of abuse
All sisters should be invited to disclose to a trusted external individual any allegations of abuse, as soon as possible. This needs to be done in such a way as to protect the good name of every individual, until investigations have taken place.
In relation to Sr Vicuna
Given the seriousness of the allegations made against Sr Vicuna, | strongly advise that (i) she undergoes a psychological evaluation and risk assessment and (ii) that she is given no further positions of responsibility in formation or as a superior generally
In relation to the congregation generally
Taking into account:
1. The provisions of Vos Estis Lux Mundi (Pope Francis, 2019)
2. Good practice in safeguarding adults in positions of vulnerability (whether superiors, sisters, novices, or aspirants)
| make the following recommendations, and urge that these be implemented with all due speed.
1. Psychological testing for all who seek admittance to the congregation.
2. That if an aspirant/novice/sister exhibits the need for some psychological support and counselling, this should be given by an external, qualified, and competent person. It should
NEVER fall to a superior to assume this role.
3. That superiors, before taking office, be given training in maintaining boundaries, and in dealing with difficult people. Again, this training should be given by appropriately qualified
4. That all sisters are given formation on human development issues, including psycho-sexual development, in maintaining appropriate boundaries, and in reporting allegations of abuse.
5. That any new novice/aspirant director receives appropriate supervision (ie she discusses any issues arising from her work with a suitable and more experienced member of the congregation on a regular basis).
6. That an appropriate external channel of communication is established so that any kind of abuse (physica!, psychological, sexual, spiritual) can be reported swiftly, and that procedures
are put in place to ensure that these are documented and followed up.
7. That any allegation is reported to the police as appropriate and/or a canonical investigation take place. If an allegation is made, the sister should step away from her office until the investigation is concluded. Decisions would then have to be made on the steps to be taken
(i) if a sister is found guilty; (ii) if there is a reasonable belief that she continues to pose a threat to others.”
In a communication that followed the threatening letter between Dr. Costigane and Sr. Prema, Sr. Prema refused every recommendation, claiming that each is already implemented in the society in one way or another. However, as you sisters know, this is either not true, or the implementation of the appropriate safety measures begs for much improvement. To an additional request of Dr. Costigane, Sr. Prema has also assured that the appropriate measures towards Sr. Vicuna have been already taken and the matter will be transferred to the Vatican. Both, as I learned later, were not true. This was said solely to gain time for strategizing with the powerful American attorney, Jim Towey, who was assisting MC in this and other matters.
Immediately after this communication I was contacted by Attorney Towey, who has built much of his career on being “Mother Theresa’s attorney”. If I thought I had seen it all in MC society - I had seen nothing yet. This representative, the one who has trademarked Mother Teresa and her blue sari, is a friend of the Bush family and a former government official of the US. He is known for protecting abusers and attacking those who work for victim rights. For some unknown reason, since nothing of what happened to me was at any level connected to the USA, it still seemed appropriate to the MC to involve such a figure (and the enormous resources at his disposal) against one Russian victim of abuse in India, who was by that time living in Ukraine.
By now, the attorney has informed me that Dr. Costigane isn't an authority in this case; supported MC in trying to jeopardize my communication with CILSAL by providing them false and defaming information; and finally in February 2021, informed my representative that Sr. Vicuna remains in good standing in the society and the case that MC has transferred to the Vatican is not about my plea as a victim. He also assured me that he intends to defend the abuser, with all of his resources. In the usual irresponsible and unChristian manner for those thinking that the problem in Church isn’t the actual sexual abuse but the victims who report it, Towey has began a defamation campaign against me and another former MC sister, who suffered abuse from Sr. Bharoti MC in 1987. He claims that we were “mentally unstable” prior to the events. He has defamed us in The National Review (one of the largest US media outlets), to investigating journalists, and to my supporters.
Unfortunately for Sr. Prema, who had to sanction this demarche for the “Mother Teresa trademark”, and for Towey himself, just before leaving for the novitiate I worked in a medical plant, a job for which multiple psychological tests are required. If only Towey would have asked he would have learned that just before the abuse, in 2013, I was in perfect psychological health. Indeed after the abuse, I do suffer severe PTSD, aggravated by the aggressive behavior of MC.
During the past two years, I have met with several other victims - former sisters and the poor, who have suffered sexual abuse from MC religious and I learned that the pattern of the MC reaction to victims reporting abuse remains consistent over the years. Their modus operandi is to first pressure the victim into silence; then throw her away, “forgive”, defend and transfer the aggressor.
From the other victims’ witness statements I also understood that as of now, MC hasn't learned to distinguish between sexuality and abuse, and treats abuse as sexual consent on behalf of both sides, regardless of the actual authority relations, positions of power, consent and so on. To illustrate: one sister who is a witness to sexual abuse, a formator in a major MC house, states that she was forced by the MC leadership to give final profession to a well-known abuser, in spite of multiple reports and her own strong objections as her formator.
Most unfortunately, the current MC leadership isn't concerned with motherly care for the sisters, with a Christian way of repentance and responsibility, or the direct papal orders, but with its “name” and fundraising goals to be met. This is all while the abuse affects actual people, who suffer the consequences for decades; people, with whom I have been talking, from around the world; former sisters, who have, like me, suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their superiors or more experienced sisters within MC. These are actual lives and vocations broken. Entire worlds of the Lord’s grace demolished.
Two years ago I wrote to Sr. Prema, MC, in hope of helping other sisters, including former and future, to get protection and care in cases of sexual abuse. During these two years, no MC authority figure ever simply said “I am sorry”. This is while the MC authorities were fully aware of Sr. Vicuna being an abuser, before my case, as she was already previously transferred (!) due to similar complaints. Regardless, she was still assigned to be mistress and superior of the Chinsurah house. Where she had her own postulants, and the authority and freedom to abuse them.
Mother has taught us to “be the one”. The one to accept responsibility, to accept our faults, to repent. The current MC authorities refuse to even follow direct orders from an official canon investigation or the papal instructions. Their priorities are definitely wrong.
Two years ago, MC could gently repent, take measures, introduce changes, and “be the one” to become known as the congregation which follows papal orders and accepts its responsibility. This could have been a victory for both MC spirituality and its public image. Sexual abuse is happening everywhere; the question always stands how the institution reacts to it. And every institution is judged by this reaction. For two years I tried to talk with you my sisters as the Bible instructs us:
If your brother does something wrong to you, go to him. Talk alone to him and tell him what he has done. If he listens to you, you have kept your brother as a friend. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two others with you to talk to him. Then two or three people will hear every word and can prove what was said. If he does not listen to them, tell the church. Matthew 18:15
This letter is to inform the MC authorities that from this point on, I am moving to discuss and report the urgent and important matter of lack of protection of MC sisters from sexual abuse as well as the absence of relevant education, prevention, safety and responsability on behalf of MC leadership, with the Church and its representatives. I am going to raise this matter with Church authorities in every place in which MC sisters are located. I believe that instructed by the papal orders, inspired by many brave fathers, sisters and brothers, victims and parish activists, our Church is now on a good road to changing the false ways and learning the right ones of repentance, responsibility and care towards the victims of sexual abuse. I am praying that due to the direct engagement of Mother Church, sisters of MC - current, former and future - will finally receive appropriate education, protection and care. This care demands that abusers will be properly treated, resources will be dedicated to the prevention of abuse, no one will remain alone with the suffering, no soul with vocation will be lost to its service, no life will be broken.
Whatsoever You Do to the Least of My Brothers You Do unto Me –
Through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Cause of our joy,
In Christ and prayer,
Ps: Happy Society Feast! Let the example of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Cause of our joy and Queen of the World guide us all on the path of love and Truth which leads to our Lord.