Special Issue "Sexual and Spiritual Violence against Adult Men and Women in the Catholic Church"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 March 2022) | Viewed by 9144

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Ute Leimgruber
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Faculty of Catholic Theology, University of Regensburg, 93040 Regensburg, Germany
Interests: power and religion; gender theory; gender bias; pastoral theology; sexual violence; spiritual violence; pastoral work
Dr. Doris Reisinger
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Catholic Theology, Goethe University, 60323 Frankfurt, Germany
Interests: spirituality; spiritual violence; religious gender stereotypes; power and religion; originality; authenticity; original artifacts

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue of Religions, entitled “Sexual and Spiritual Violence against Men and Women in the Catholic Church”, will focus on an area of religious research that is increasingly drawing scholarly interest: spiritual and sexual abuse of adults in religious domains, predominantly in the Catholic Church. Two perspectives are of particular importance here: first, the view of adult victims of sexual abuse by the clergy; second, the special focus on women. The aim of this Special Issue is to explore where and in what forms of sexual and psychological violence in the Catholic Church occurs.

The first focus of the issue will be to consider adults as victims of abuse in religious contexts (see Stephen E. de Weger, Reporting Clergy Sexual Misconduct against Adults to Roman Catholic Church Authorities: An Analysis of survivor perspectives, Queensland 2020). The phenomenon of adults affected by abuse in the Catholic Church attracted broader scientific interest years after the large amount of research on abuse of children and minors. The patterns and logics of violence associated with the abuse of adults differ from those associated with the abuse of minors. According to many reports of adult victims, spiritual abuse is used as a means to initiate sexual assault. It becomes apparent that sexual violence in the Christian Churches or other religious contexts cannot be seen independently of spiritual abuse. We hope that a significant number of essays will shed much-needed light on this link between sexual and spiritual abuse in pastoral contexts.

The second focus within the larger research field is on the sexual abuse of teenage girls and adult women in the Catholic Church. In Catholicism, the abuse of female victims appears to be closely linked to certain conceptions of gender that are taught by the magisterium and deeply ingrained in an exclusively male-dominated conception of the office. This Special Issue aims to provide, as a second goal, insight into this complex combination of structural and ideological power asymmetries and their role in violence against girls and women in the Catholic Church. (See e.g., Chibnall, J. T. et al., “A National Survey of the Sexual Trauma Experiences of Catholic Nuns” in Review of Religious Research 40 (2/1998) 142–167; Starkey, A., “The Roman Catholic Church and Violence Against Women” in Johnson A. (ed.), Religion and Men's Violence Against Women, New York 2015; Haslbeck, B. et al. (Hg.), Erzählen als Widerstand. “Berichte über spirituellen und sexuellen Missbrauch an erwachsenen Frauen in der katholischen Kirche“, Münster 2020; or Reisinger, D., "#NunsToo. Sexueller Missbrauch an Ordensfrauen - Fakten und Fragen“, in Stimmen der Zeit 236 (6/2018), 374–384.)

This Special Issue will be dealing with a scope of themes of sexual violence and aims to be an interdisplinary investigation into the problem. It will be examined from different theological, psychological, philosophical, historical, and legal disciplines and perspectives.

Topics that might be covered include:

  • Discussion of the concept of spiritual abuse and spiritual violence
  • Adults as victims of sexual abuse in the Church
  • Abuse in religious congregations and orders
  • Legal aspects of clergy sexual abuse of adult persons
  • Gender issues with regard to sexualized/spiritualized violence
  • Other Christian denominations than the Catholic Church

Prof. Dr. Ute Leimgruber
Dr. Doris Reisinger
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1200 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • sexual violence
  • spiritual violence
  • spiritual abuse
  • abuse of adult women
  • clergy abuse of adults
  • pastoral theology
  • Catholic Church

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Research

Article
Victims Are Not Guilty! Spiritual Abuse and Ecclesiastical Responsibility
Religions 2022, 13(5), 427; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13050427 - 09 May 2022
Viewed by 512
Abstract
The aim of this article is to show that victims of spiritual abuse are not guilty of what they have undergone and that, in the Catholic setting, the Church has an institutional responsibility for it. With this objective, after the Introduction (1), the [...] Read more.
The aim of this article is to show that victims of spiritual abuse are not guilty of what they have undergone and that, in the Catholic setting, the Church has an institutional responsibility for it. With this objective, after the Introduction (1), the paper analyses the definition of spiritual abuse (2); tackles several topics stemming from the analysis of definitions, such as the nature of spiritual power and its effects (3), the issue of vulnerability (4), the institutional dimension of spiritual abuse in the Catholic setting (5), and the disputed topic of intentionality (6). The article provides a conclusion that aims to summarize the results of the analysis (7). Full article
Article
Vulnerability, Vulnerance and Resilience—Spiritual Abuse and Sexual Violence in New Spiritual Communities
Religions 2022, 13(5), 425; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13050425 - 08 May 2022
Viewed by 601
Abstract
In February 2017, Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, acknowledged in an interview that some 70 “new spiritual movements” were under investigation for abusive behavior committed by their founders. The number of [...] Read more.
In February 2017, Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, acknowledged in an interview that some 70 “new spiritual movements” were under investigation for abusive behavior committed by their founders. The number of cases that remain undetected is probably large. This article uses the example of these communities to analyze the precarious tension between vulnerability, vulnerance, and resilience. It draws on Céline Hoyeau’s excellent study of those founders of new spiritual movements in France who were later exposed as abusers. It also presents my research on the sacred in its dangerous connection to the victimizing sacrifice. My basic thesis is that exploring the link between vulnerability and resilience is not enough. Rather, vulnerance needs to be systematically included in the analyses. This new approach opens up a more complex understanding of abuse, cover-ups, and disclosure. It can tackle both the vulnerant resilience of the perpetrators and the voluntary vulnerability of survivors in disclosing abuse. Full article
Article
Unchaste Celibates: Clergy Sexual Misconduct against Adults—Expressions, Definitions, and Harms
Religions 2022, 13(5), 393; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13050393 - 24 Apr 2022
Viewed by 603
Abstract
There is an ignored, misunderstood, and complex reality within the broader clergy sexual abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic Church (RCC)—that of clergy sexual misconduct against adults (CSMAA). Estimates and calculations of numbers of victims/survivors over the last half-century reach into the early [...] Read more.
There is an ignored, misunderstood, and complex reality within the broader clergy sexual abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic Church (RCC)—that of clergy sexual misconduct against adults (CSMAA). Estimates and calculations of numbers of victims/survivors over the last half-century reach into the early millions. Furthermore, evidence reveals that CSMAA does produce many serious personal, relational, and practical harms. This article presents and discusses the many expressions of such harms. However, even with the evidence of such harms CSMAA events are, for the most part, still generally perceived as consensual affairs. Such a perception is challenged when CSMAA is contextualised within a professional misconduct framework, and even more so, when survivors thereof participate in the research. Furthermore, CSMAA is clearly not just one type of event. Accordingly, this article also presents a continuum of expressions of CSMAA to assist with perceptual accuracy of this issue along with an unambiguous definition of CSMAA. Full article
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Article
Narrating and Remembrance in the Face of Abuse in the Church
Religions 2022, 13(4), 348; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13040348 - 12 Apr 2022
Viewed by 410
Abstract
Contrary to the priority of protecting the institutional Church and its clergy, prevailing for decades and centuries, today the testimonies of victims of sexual abuse are increasingly being heard. This article focuses on autobiographical accounts of women, published in recent years, who as [...] Read more.
Contrary to the priority of protecting the institutional Church and its clergy, prevailing for decades and centuries, today the testimonies of victims of sexual abuse are increasingly being heard. This article focuses on autobiographical accounts of women, published in recent years, who as adults suffered from sexual and spiritual violence within the Catholic Church. It analyses characteristics of spiritual and sexual abuse, identifies specific constellations and a misogynistic theology. Complementary to this, traumatic experiences of flight and expulsion, as described by the theologian Katharina Elliger, are examined. Thus, this article describes the meaning of narrating one’s traumatic experiences for the authors themselves and suggests collective remembrance as an appropriate reaction of the Church and the society. Full article
Article
Sex Offenses—Offensive Sex: Some Observations on the Recent Reform of Ecclesiastical Penal Law
Religions 2022, 13(4), 332; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13040332 - 07 Apr 2022
Viewed by 448
Abstract
In recent years, the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in the Catholic Church has received much attention. This is also true of the related changes to ecclesiastical legislation. Less attention, however, has been paid to other aspects of the reform. The [...] Read more.
In recent years, the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in the Catholic Church has received much attention. This is also true of the related changes to ecclesiastical legislation. Less attention, however, has been paid to other aspects of the reform. The revised penal law of the Code of Canon Law, in any case, demands closer study from the point of critical legal studies. It is striking that while the reform focused on improving the legal protection of minors, it also had rather detrimental effects on the legal standing of women in the church. Reading the revised law, it appears that the reform missed the chance to improve the legal situation of the mostly female adult victims of clerical sex offenses and abuses of power. It rather spotlighted “female” offenses such as abortion in contrast to typical “male” offenses such as homicide, and it moreover criminalized women who attempt ordination. Thus, the regulations of the reformed penal law not only generally leave the systemic causes of abuse untouched, but also establish norms which reinvent or even exacerbate abusive structures. The latter finally sustain clericalism and reinstitutionalize gender inequality, commonly identified as factors fostering abuse. Full article
Article
Insincerity, Secrecy, Neutralisation, Harm: Reporting Clergy Sexual Misconduct against Adults—A Survivor-Based Analysis
Religions 2022, 13(4), 309; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13040309 - 31 Mar 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 761
Abstract
The foundational study for this article asked: how do survivors of clergy sexual misconduct against adults (CSMAA) in the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) describe and understand their experiences of reporting that misconduct to Roman Catholic Church authorities? The findings were that, while survivors [...] Read more.
The foundational study for this article asked: how do survivors of clergy sexual misconduct against adults (CSMAA) in the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) describe and understand their experiences of reporting that misconduct to Roman Catholic Church authorities? The findings were that, while survivors sincerely believed that they would be cared for when they approached their Church officials, most soon began to sense a deep lack of insincerity coming from the officials dealing with their case. This insincerity was exposed in various forms by those officials as well as RCC hierarchy connected to the cases. The conclusion here is that the RCC seeks to neutralise exposure of CSMAA and the survivors thereof, and that they actually need to do so. The result—further and deeper harming of the already harmed. Full article
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Article
Asymmetry in Confession as a Cause of Sexual and Spiritual Violence—Dogma Historical Resources for Making Changes to Confession in Terms of Clerical and Sacramental Theology
Religions 2022, 13(4), 307; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13040307 - 31 Mar 2022
Viewed by 401
Abstract
The dynamic and asymmetry of a pastoral situation is intensified by the Catholic theological rules to the extent that the confession may only be heard by an ordained man. It is particularly the priest’s sole right to pronounce absolution that compounds spiritual dependency [...] Read more.
The dynamic and asymmetry of a pastoral situation is intensified by the Catholic theological rules to the extent that the confession may only be heard by an ordained man. It is particularly the priest’s sole right to pronounce absolution that compounds spiritual dependency in terms of the personal relationship with God that the sin fundamentally impairs. I shall take dogmatic decisions and attrition—to indicate potential for change that could make the confessional, which is still an important place for some women, a possibly less dangerous place. These changes would be: Precisely, because the pastoral system, in its asymmetrical relationship in confession, is a place for passive, suffered and active vulnerability, it is essential for the priest to be aware of his own weaknesses and vulnerability. The liturgy could be used to change the concentration on the one form of confession and with it the focus on the priest. Making dogmatic changes to confession should aim to compensate for the asymmetry and vulnerability of the situation as such, thus focusing on protecting the person, rather than on the sacrament. Full article
Article
Observations on the Magisterium’s Gender Anthropology and Its Consequences for Women in the Catholic Church
Religions 2022, 13(4), 305; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13040305 - 31 Mar 2022
Viewed by 477
Abstract
The Catholic Church has a gender-hierarchical constitution. The Church’s magisterium justifies this structure and the lack of gender equality within the Church with the complementary sexuality of human beings as man and woman, which is considered to be the will of God. In [...] Read more.
The Catholic Church has a gender-hierarchical constitution. The Church’s magisterium justifies this structure and the lack of gender equality within the Church with the complementary sexuality of human beings as man and woman, which is considered to be the will of God. In this article, this doctrine is presented in detail, based on relevant documents of the Church‘s magisterium, and is classified with regard to its consequences for women within the Catholic Church. Even though the Church rejects criticism of its position as a dangerous “(gender) ideology”, fewer and fewer women (and men) accept its teaching of a specific “genius of women” and of the assigned gender-specific roles in the Church and in the world associated with it. Moreover, there is now a growing awareness that violence against women is usually related to such hierarchical gender concepts. Full article
Article
The ‘Great Whore’ of Babylon (Rev 17) as a Non-Survivor of Sexual Abuse
Religions 2022, 13(3), 267; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030267 - 21 Mar 2022
Viewed by 575
Abstract
The article aims to re-read Rev 17:16 amid the catastrophic patterns of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Employing narratological methods as well as a close reading of the text, it is argued that Rev 17:16 can be coherently read as the violent [...] Read more.
The article aims to re-read Rev 17:16 amid the catastrophic patterns of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Employing narratological methods as well as a close reading of the text, it is argued that Rev 17:16 can be coherently read as the violent sexual punishment of an anthropomorphic female character. Signals in the text point to God’s involvement in this punishment and to its overall positive evaluation. Considering reader’s realities in the context of sexual abuse and its cover-up, the article argues for the necessity of taking a positional stance while reading biblical ‘texts of sexual terror’. Such a positional stance must have visible effects on a responsible reading and interpretation of the ‘great whore’s’ story. Full article
Article
Vulnerance of Pastoral Care
Religions 2022, 13(3), 256; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030256 - 17 Mar 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 669
Abstract
Disproving assumptions to the contrary, this article clearly shows how and why adults can become victims of abuse in church contexts. It does this by focusing on the pastoral care context and the interdependent potential risk factors lying within. As previous studies suggest, [...] Read more.
Disproving assumptions to the contrary, this article clearly shows how and why adults can become victims of abuse in church contexts. It does this by focusing on the pastoral care context and the interdependent potential risk factors lying within. As previous studies suggest, this context is especially susceptible to perpetrating abuse. Approximately three-quarters of all cases of abuse occur or begin in the context of pastoral care or spiritual counseling. Often, theories of pastoral care do not address this danger and tend to idealize the practice of pastoral care. In contrast, it is necessary to recognize a specific power to victimize due to the theological and structural power differential in pastoral relationships. Therefore, this article proposes a complex understanding of “vulnerability” and “vulnerance” that accounts for the victimization potential inherent in all pastoral care settings and advocates a theory of pastoral care that is not only concerned with the individual but also incorporates reflections on structural and systemic power dynamics. Full article
Article
Reproductive Abuse in the Context of Clergy Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church
Religions 2022, 13(3), 198; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13030198 - 24 Feb 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1220
Abstract
In a significant number of cases, clerical sex offenders impregnate their victims and force them into hiding, abortion, or adoption. This phenomenon is referred to in this paper as reproductive abuse. Clearly, most victims of reproductive abuse are adults, but even among [...] Read more.
In a significant number of cases, clerical sex offenders impregnate their victims and force them into hiding, abortion, or adoption. This phenomenon is referred to in this paper as reproductive abuse. Clearly, most victims of reproductive abuse are adults, but even among minor victims of clerical child abuse, between 1 and 10 percent may have experienced reproductive abuse. On the basis of pertinent studies, this paper explores archival material on several dozen allegations of reproductive abuse in the context of clergy sexual abuse of minors in the US Catholic Church. Besides some tentative estimates of the general frequency of the phenomenon, this paper offers a distinction of three different types of reproductive abuse and an analysis of the interplay of clericalist and secular misogyny, which appears to be largely responsible for the silencing of victims as well as for the impunity of perpetrators and leads to the invisibility of this phenomenon, despite the high importance attributed to reproductive issues in the Catholic context. Full article
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