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THE SURVIVAL OF THE SPIRIT

WHILE MIRED IN THE TOXIC WASTES OF THE

ECCLESIASTICAL SWAMP

 Thomas P. Doyle, J.C.D., C.A.D.C.

 ANNUAL SNAP GATHERING

 Chicago, Illinois

 July 13, 2008

Preface

          Sexual abuse of children and minors by trusted clergy results in a unique type of trauma.  The vast majority of victims are devoted members of their denominations with an exceptional degree of trust in their clergy person and in the religious system.  The intensity and destructive effects of the trauma associated with clergy abuse are directly related to the emotional bond between the victim and the abuser. This bond is grounded in factors that are described as “spiritual” but which in fact are toxic and lead to a traumatic relationship that is accompanied by sexual abuse.

            There are two dimensions of religious based trauma that directly impact the overall effects of clergy sexual abuse: the emotional and mental conditioning of the victim, which directly influences susceptibility to abuse and, the same conditioning with the added element of a toxic spirituality which shapes the impact of abuse on the victim.

            Prevention of the lasting effects of trauma from clergy sexual abuse involves more than awareness of the modus operandi of sexual predators in clergy clothing.  It must also take into account the enabling aspect of religious conditioning that leads to a post-abuse feeling of alienation from God as well as society.  Short term prevention is directed at potential victims but also at the religious systems or institutions that both train and employ clergy.  Long term prevention probes deeply into the systemic factors that enable clergy sexual abuse and produce the unique traumatic effects of this abuse on the believing victims.

            I have been a Catholic all my life.  I was ordained a priest in 1970 and at that time and for many years thereafter I accepted without question the doctrine and law of the Catholic Church in every way.  I believed in the particular teachings about the pope, bishops and priests.  I believed that the Church was a response to a personal God who knew what I did at all times, responded to my prayers, was deeply concerned about human behavior and was displeased by sin and sinners. This God invoked both love and fear and gave us the security of communicating his will for us through the special medium of his popes and bishops.

            I believed that all of the robes, rituals, customs, rules and traditions had an essential place in God’s special community on earth.  I believed that priests and bishops really were “different” and possessed special powers given them by God through ordination.  I firmly believed that this was the only way to God and the only true Church.

            Those who have been sexually assaulted by Catholic clergy or religious have experienced spiritual trauma as well as emotional and psychological trauma.  The impact on the soul is often subtle and grows more painful and debilitating as time passes.   Many survivors have said that this spiritual pain has been worse than the emotional pain.  To be sure, the assault on the spirit is not limited to the actual victims but to the many others who are caught up in the collateral damage.  Parents, spouses and siblings are the most obvious but it spreads to others who know, love or care for the victims.  The spiritual damage has been experienced by attorneys, counselors, media persons and law enforcement professionals who become involved with clergy abuse victims.  What they have seen and heard is a severe jolt to the spiritual or religious belief system.

            My remarks are based on twenty-four years of experience of direct communication with victims of clergy sexual abuse.  During these years I have also come to know the parents and family members of victims and have had their pain seared into my soul.  Finally, I draw on my own experience of along, challenging and often painful struggle for spiritual survival.

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