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Home > Public Resources > Trauma Blog > 2002 - Fall > Clergy Sexual Abuse Trauma Calls for Research and Treatment Models

Clergy Sexual Abuse Trauma Calls for Research and Treatment Models

October 1, 2002

The genesis of the clergy/sexual abuse scandal in the United States began in the early '80s with the case of Gilbert Gauthe in Louisiana and was followed by the case involving James Porter in the Fall River Diocese of Massachusetts in 1993.

The third round, which began in January 2002, truly opened wide the topic of clergy sexual abuse, a long and well-kept secret for hundreds of years. The case of John Geoghan, a former Boston archdiocesan priest, started the unraveling of an endless string of accusations, allegations and indictments of Boston priests. This plague-like dilemma spread quickly across every diocese in the country and has continued in other parts of the world. Although clergy sexual abuse affects other religious groups, the Catholic priesthood is the primary focus now.

The tragic trail of events has left in its wake countless innocent victims trying to pick up the pieces, living lives of secrecy and inner torment. For the most part, these victims were young boys, but sometimes young girls. Most of these youngsters were serving the church as altar servers. The victims carried this secret deep inside their hearts and minds to adulthood. Extreme shame and guilt went hand-in-hand. Who would believe them if they told anyone? The victims felt confused-how could someone they trusted and viewed as a role model do anything to hurt or humiliate them? They felt scared-how could they talk about this to anyone? The list of residual trauma is long.

How to Heal After the Anger
Before this scandal blew up in the media, victims had little access to formalized treatment modalities for this particular type of trauma. Much work needs to be done to develop new ways to treat these adult victims of childhood trauma.

In an effort to quell the scandal of abuse, most dioceses offered to pay for individual counseling for victims as they presented themselves to the chancery offices. However, most victims wanted to hear a sincere apology from their perpetrators and those in authority over them. Had this been done, perhaps the healing process for the victims might have started earlier.

Research is limited in this field of secretive male abuse, and only recently have men begun to seek help for sexual abuse. There is no substitute for individual and group therapy to help victims process trauma, leading them to a life where peace and healing start to be restored.

Wendy Maltz, in her book The Sexual Healing Journey, wrote, "Begin your journey only when you feel ready for it. Go slowly. Pace yourself. Trust yourself. Remember: This is your journey." This advice helps victims begin to peel back the layers of destructive behavior that have amassed deep in the psyche and soul of the abused.

Several organizations have formed to assist victims. SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was the first to form. Important in any process of healing, the victim must know that he or she is not alone in suffering such a trauma. SNAP offers a strong support group and advocacy for the voiceless victims, allowing them to be heard as a single voice that says they will never again tolerate this kind of behavior from their clergy. The SNAP Web site lists additional sources at www.survivorsnetwork.org. The LINKUP, an organization formed to assist victims of clergy sexual abuse, also offers sources for healing at www.thelinkup.com. A suggested 12-step program, adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous, called Clergy Abuse Survivors Anonymous is another source. Finally, a Web site called God Talk-An Interfaith Television Show (www.godtalktv.org) offers a videotape called Clergy Sex Abuse in the Roman Catholic Church: Prevention, Healing and Transformation, which features a panel of sexual abuse experts who discuss steps the church can take to heal and transform the victims of clergy sexual abuse. Also available on the site is an outline for a "Prayer Service for Healing in Response to the Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis," which can be adapted to local faith communities that want to conduct public healing services for victims of child sexual abuse.

Most available literature deals with the clergy sexual abuse but does not instruct how to treat and take care of victims. This is an area that is fertile ground for more research and specific treatment models.

Philip G. Salois, M.Div., is chief, Chaplain Service, VA Boston Healthcare System in Boston.