Roman Catholic Clergy who have sexually abused children: their perceptions of their developmental experience

Child Abuse Negl. 2013 Sep;37(9):698-702. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2012.12.001. Epub 2013 Jan 11.


Objectives: There is a growing consensus in the research and theoretical literature that vulnerability to the perpetration of child sexual abuse appears to involve the offenders' early developmental experience. This study explored the perceptions of nine clerical child sex offenders in relation to their developmental experience.

Methods: Nine participants were selected on the basis of being priests or brothers who had sexually abused children. Participants were identified from a larger group of clergy who were currently attending or had previously attended an institution that provides therapeutic intervention for sex offenders and aged between 38 and 75 years. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to identify common themes in the participants' accounts.

Conclusions: Many of these themes are reflected in the existing literature but what appears to distinguish the participants in the present study is their experience of an ideology within clerical training that prevented remediation and compounded earlier psychosocial and psychosexual difficulties.

Keywords: Attachment; Clergy; Intimacy; Priest; Sex offender; Sexual abuse.

MeSH terms

  • Catholicism
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / prevention & control
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology*
  • Clergy / psychology*
  • Criminals / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Ireland / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Psychology
  • Psychosexual Development
  • Sex Offenses / psychology*