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New study highlights common themes among clergy abuse survivors

Cases of clergy abuse are unfortunately nothing new. For centuries, the Catholic church has made repeated attempts to cover up allegations of abuse to avoid scandal. In the 1980s, these reported cases started to gain significant media attention. Today, clergy abuse remains a serious problem.

In May, for example, five Michigan priests were charged with sexual abuse. These men ranged in ages from 55 to 83. The details of the allegations are of course highly distressing. But while most of these stories focus on the perpetrators and their crimes, very little research has been conducted on the long-standing psychological effects suffered by the survivors.

First, the John Jay Report

In one of the most comprehensive bodies of research on clergy abuse, the 2004 report by New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice—funded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops—highlights some of the following startling figures:

  • 81% of the survivors were male
  • Between 1950 and 2002, there were about 10,667 reported allegations
  • Most survivors were aged 11 to 14
  • In allegations involving deceased or otherwise inactive clergy members, an investigation was typically not made

Clergy abuse common themes

Clergy abuse differs from other forms of abuse in some noteworthy ways. The trust children (and adults) invest in clergy members is distinctive; church figures are equipped with a certain type of authority. When that trust is abused and broken, the results are traumatic.

A new article published in the journal Traumatology reports some key findings from years of comprehensive research and some 2,412 abuse survivors. Some of the common themes in clergy abuse include:

  • Abuse is most prevalent (or at least reported) in the Catholic church
  • Survivors often reported that family and community members didn’t believe their complaints or take them seriously
  • Because of the gravity of clergy abuse (and the previously mentioned sense of moral trust), survivors report strong feelings of shame, depression and mistrust
  • Most of the survivors were male
  • Reports of PTSD in survivors was also common
  • Many survivors felt too shameful and guilty to even report their abuse

The clergy are held to a certain moral standard. When they abuse a child’s trust, it is especially devastating.

If you feel that you or a loved one has been abused or treated inappropriately by a Michigan clergy member, do not feel ashamed. You deserve aggressive representation on your side. You deserve justice.

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