How Can We Help Victims of Clergy Abuse?

Psychology Today

February 27, 2019

When John J. Geoghan was sentenced in January, 2002 on multiple charges relating to his long history of serial child abuse, he represented just the latest in a long line of cases involving sexual abuse in the clergy. Evidence at Geoghan’s trial showed that he was repeatedly transferred to different Catholic dioceses following allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour involving young boys. During the 1960s and 1970s, he continued to be transferred to positions where he would have regular contact with children even after the Church arranged for him to be treated for pedophilia. Even after he formally retired from his active clergy work in 1993, the allegations continued. By the time he was finally sentenced (after first being removed from the priesthood) in 2002, his career of abuse was believed to stretch back decades and involved more than 130 boys.

In the aftermath of Geoghan’s sentencing (and his murder in prison less than a year later), the resulting scandal led to the resignation of Boston’s archbishop and numerous investigations concerning how the Church dealt with Geoghan and many of the other priests who also faced allegations. It also highlighted the treatment of whistleblowers by the Church, many of whom faced serious penalties for attempting to expose what was happening . Still, while most of the investigations into clergy abuse have focused on the Catholic Church, cases of equivalent abuse can be found in virtually every other religion as well.

Despite countless new stories about abuse by clergy not to mention the various movie and television dramatizations of different scandals that have come to light, actual research into the impact of this kind of abuse on victims has been surprisingly scarce up to now. But a new review article published in the journal Traumatology provides a comprehensive look at the psychological impact of clergy abuse on victims and how it differs from other types of sexual abuse.

Written by Danielle M. McGraw and a team of fellow researchers at Alliant International University in Los Angeles, CA, the article examined hundreds of peer-reviewed studies looking at clergy abuse though only a small minority contained actual empirical data on clergy abuse victims. To supplement the available information, McGraw and her co-researchers also included victim data from several recent books on victims of clergy abuse as well as dissertation data.

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