A former sister of the Institute of the Incarnate Word (Instituto del Verbo Encarnado, IVE) is revealing what she endured as a member of the order in her late teens. Her claims were brought to the archdiocese of Washington, D.C. last year, and she personally met with a sister (not a member of IVE) who works in the chancery under then-Cdl. Donald Wuerl. She submitted a signed, 90-page testimony of her experiences and was told by the chancery official they would investigate her claims. In spite of multiple emails and several months passing, the investigation so far seems to have yielded no results.
Church Militant contacted St. Kateri Convent in Maryland to give members a chance to respond to the former sister's claims, but received no response.
Church Militant previously reported on the controversial founder of the IVE, Fr. Miguel Buela, and his relationship to homosexual predator Theodore McCarrick.
By a former sister
I'm a loyal daughter of the Catholic Church. I'm a practicing Catholic. But I am also a woman who has been let down by people in the Church who claim to act in His name.
When I was 18, I entered the Argentine order the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara; they fall under the branch of the Institute of the Incarnate Word (Instituto del Verbo Encarnado, IVE), and my experience was nothing less than horrific.
It's a cult, not a religious order. Here are a few details, along with the intense connection of this order to defrocked Theodore McCarrick.
McCarrick lived at the seminary in Maryland while I was in the order. There was a small house in the middle of the parking lot of the seminary. McCarrick lived in that house with two or three seminarians. We were told at the time that he "chose them because he saw great promise in them." To a naive 18-year-old, I did not think much about it. Looking back however, I think we can all put two and two together.
There is a summer house in a rural part of New York that's owned by the order. Every year there is a retreat in May for young people, hosted by the order. And every year I went as a young teenager. McCarrick would be there, hanging around the seminarians.
On top of this, he would always make the same speech and talk about how much he loved the order and that he dubbed himself the "protector of the order" because, according to him, there were forces in the Church who did not truly understand them; according to him and the superiors, he was the savior because the IVE "family" was the absolute best.
Once, there was a sister and priest from Rome (they were not part of IVE) who came to "interview" the sisters. I, along with several other girls, weren't permitted to speak, or even be in the same room with the two. We overheard the superior instructing the remaining sisters to only say positive things; they were not to reveal anything too unpleasant regarding the order. And, like always, we were reminded to be on our best behavior. I truly wonder how much Rome actually knows about this.
Everything slowly changed while I was behind those convent doors. Obviously they are people, and people have their moments, and no order is perfect — but this was vastly different.
My superior was manipulative and abusive. Several months in, I asked to leave. Instead of having a conversation, I was put under obedience by my spiritual director and superior. I was told that my desire to leave was of the devil and that I was "weak."
As punishment, my superior cut me off from the outside world. She convinced me that my family was evil and that if I left the convent, my parents would force me to commit suicide. She did not allow me to speak or see my family, so they did not know what was going on, nor did they know I was trapped.
I found out later that my superior had repeatedly lied to my family. But after some time continually being told the outside world was a danger to me, I began to believe the lies and became terrified of anything beyond the walls of the convent.
After months of this treatment, I fell into a depression. I was taken to a friend of the order who was a psychiatrist. To put it bluntly, he was awful. Mother gave him authority to put me under obedience and do whatever he asked. She would be in the next room eavesdropping, and if he asked me something I did not want to answer, he would threaten me to get Mother Superior to make me talk or else there would be punishment.
It wasn't that I was hiding anything from him; rather, he creeped me out and I did not like the way he looked at my body. I didn't trust him. I begged for genuine help to deal with my depression; that help was denied me and instead I was laughed at — literally.
With no help, without seeing my family and with abuse, I became suicidal; it seemed like the only way out of Hell. Every day there was emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual abuse.
The physical abuse included the denial of important medication and, at times, even food. I was randomly taken off a medication I entered with because, according to the "doctor," it would be "an interesting experiment to see what I was like without them." After this, Mother decided that not only was my presence to her a burden, or that I was unloveable — as she stated every day (which I fully believed) — but she then insisted that God did not want me. I was told that my prayers were an offense to God and that I was not allowed to pray.
There is much more to the story than the brief moments I'm recalling. It would take a whole book to explain the traumatic details. When I was finally free of this order, I was taken to a real doctor and informed that I had severe post-traumatic stress disorder, coupled with brainwashing, which eventually led to a serious auto-immune disease triggered by the trauma, according to doctors.
I don't think it's surprising that I left the Church for a while after I got out of the order. It has been a long journey but, praise God, He is good and faithful. I had a "re-conversion" back to the Catholic Church when I was in college; I couldn't deny the beauty of the Church, especially the Eucharist. Because of that, I transferred universities and declared a major in theology and ministry. I am now a high school theology teacher who writes and directs retreats and is heavily involved in ministry; I absolutely love my job. I feel blessed to be alive, happy and healthy. God has been insanely generous to me.
Even amidst all that has gone down since the scandal, I still believe that the Catholic Church is the one true faith. It's the humans that make a mess of things, not God.