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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Violence, Memory, and Religion among Survivors of Clerical Sexual Abuse


In an early-April lecture, Robert Orsi,the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies at Northwestern University, spoke about the spiritual lives of adult survivors of clerical sexual abuse, and what their stories indicate about potential realities of the clerical sexual abuse crisis that had been overlooked or underplayed.

Orsi has conducted interviews with several survivors and in his lecture discussed his experience learning about survivors’ relationship to the Church after their abuse. He told a story of one survivor, Mary Rose, who felt abandoned by God and wondered if she should blame herself for the abuse.

Orsi then explained how for many years, religion was not considered a significant factor in clerical sexual violence. Instead, religion as a potential exacerbator or accomplice to sexual violence has been downplayed, especially by the Catholic hirearchy. Instead it simply served as a “dependent variable” in such discourse. While Orsi said he does not see a clear solution to the problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, he said that he hopes his work will open new modes of conversation about the crisis.