Control, abuse, mania in Catholic community likened to hell

Defectors from a Catholic community in Austria have described their circumstances there as a living hell.

The Vatican has investigated allegations of abuse in The Work (Das Werk) based in Bregenz, but the results are not known.

Both nuns and priests belong to the community, as well as non-ordained male and female members.

A former nun from The Work, Doris Wagner, has just published a book which tells of her abuse by a priest in Bregenz.

She left the community in 2011 “depressed, virtually penniless and with no social contacts”.

She claims she was “controlled, manipulated, sexually abused and pressured”.

She said that her superiors disenfranchised her, used her as cheap domestic labour, failed to protect her from sexual assault, and didn’t take care of her when she was sick.

Wagner’s publisher said that she brought charges against the abusive priest, both in Germany and Austria, but that he claims that she consented to his sexual advances.

Darren Canning, originally from England, said he spent six years as a member of The Work and cried every day.

“It was hell, I hoped and prayed that I would die,” he said.

He left in 2003, with no money and no education, and said he had to start a new life from scratch in England.

Canning said that The Work operated a “system of religious mania, surveillance and oppression that must be stopped”.

He said contacts with people outside “the family” were discouraged and that all telephone conversations and letters had to be screened by a religious superior.

Canning said that when his grandfather died he wasn’t even allowed to travel to England for his funeral – the reason given was that his grandfather hadn’t been a Christian.

A former priest who was part of The Work said even in confession priests typically viewed women as “temptresses”, and female abuse victims were seen as complicit simply because of their gender.

A spokesman for The Work admitted that certain restrictions had been in place, but that they have now been abolished.

The Work was founded in 1938 and was given papal approval in 2001 by Pope John Paul II. It reports directly to the pope.


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