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Effects of Sexual Abuse by Catholic Priests on Adults Victimized as Children

NCJ Number
Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity Volume: 15 Issue: 3 Dated: 2008 Pages: 250-268
Diane J. Shea
Date Published
19 pages
The purpose of this study was to compare symptoms of depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, learned helplessness, and strength of religious faith between those abused by a priest and those abused by a layperson.
Although there were no significant differences between those abused by a priest and those abused by a layperson in measures of depression, learned helplessness, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and strength of religious faith, it is important to note that both groups, on all four measures, reported significant negative effects. There were strong indications of learned helplessness and moderately high levels of depression in both groups. Both groups reported weak religious faith. In conclusion, the findings suggest that the research literature about the impact of childhood sexual abuse appears to be generalizable to the population of persons who were abused by priests. However, those abused by a priest were older than those abused by a layperson, causing difficulty in ascertaining whether potential effects that were not found were masked by the confusion in age. The research supports the argument that because there are often long-term psychological effects of childhood sexual abuse and the abuse may go unreported for decades, maintaining a statute of limitations is inadvertently helping the abuser. One of the deficits in literature on childhood sexual abuse was the absence of quantitative studies that examined specific psychological effects when the abuser was a member of the clergy. This study attempts to address this void. The study was framed around two primary questions: (1) what are some of the psychological and spiritual impacts on the persons who experience sexual abuse when the perpetrator is a Catholic priest; and (2) is there a difference in symptoms between persons who were abused by a priest and those who were abused by a layperson? Participants were all adult males over 18 who experienced sexual abuse as a child. Tables and references