Clergy Abuse: Betrayal and Relational Trauma

Christine A. Courtois, PhD, ABPP
Psychologist, Private Practice
Courtois & Associates, PC
Washington, DC
[email protected]
I. Clergy abuse and incest have similar
◦ Both are forms of complex trauma
II. Complex trauma ->complex reactions
III. Complex reactions -> complex healing
◦ Understanding dynamics and common reactions
helps to better understand the injury and to heal
What is trauma?
◦ Stressor event or experience (includes witnessing)
◦ Overwhelming
◦ Different types: impersonal, interpersonal, identity
What makes it traumatic?
◦ Overwhelming emotionally and cognitively
◦ Cannot be emotionally processed in the normal way
◦ When interpersonal, adds to the trauma
 betrayal, secrecy, silence, taboo, force/violence,
blame/shame, etc.
◦ Avoided and not processed
 generalizes and/or goes underground
What is Complex Trauma?
◦ Interpersonal/identity
◦ Often during childhood/adolescence
 Impacts development
◦ In context of a relationship
 Betrayal/Misuse/Exploitation
Escalating over time
Seriousness & intrusion
Sexual abuse by family members
(also by nonrelatives who have family roles, including clergy)
Violates primary relationships and roles
Violates responsibility to protect
Misuses authority, power, knowledge
Preys on and exploits those who are
younger/smaller /less powerful/naïve/
◦ Have fewer resources
◦ Victims are more vulnerable if family is not healthy
Betrayal and Relational Trauma
◦ Betrayal of an essential and sacrosanct relationship
and role
◦ Not “stranger-danger”
◦ Much more emotionally conflicted and damaging
◦ May affect ability to remember
Second injury
Those who don’t respond or help
Institutional injury
Those that obstruct rather than help
Communities and organizations
Dysfunctional Family
◦ With boundary and power problems; sometimes
violent, poly-abusive, addictions
Power and gender dynamics
◦ Patriarchal
Closed system
◦ Loyalty expected, even when not deserved
Family rules and injunctions
◦ Don’t!: know, feel, react, respond, tell
Paradox and hypocrisy
Victim who discloses is blamed, shunned,
◦ “You are with us or against us; Don’t ask us to
Supporters/interveners are treated with
suspicion, may be attacked
Secondary and tertiary victims
◦ Trauma has a wake: like a pebble in a pond
◦ Other family members, others in the parish or
faith community
Structured power and historical behaviors
(including abuse) and doctrine
Patriarchal and hierarchical: Cardinals , bishops
and priests as authority figures, extensions of the
deity; contradictory views of women
Church as family
Church as closed system
Structured morals and beliefs (that are violated)
Structured training of priests
◦ Vocations and seminaries
◦ Personal and psychosexual development in the seminary
Loyalty and obedience expected
Priest as God’s representative: Spiritual father
Authority and moral figure
May have a role in the child’s biological family
Always to be honored, obeyed, respected
Not to be questioned/suspected
Church and congregants as extended family
◦ Children of God
◦ Beliefs, structure, functioning
◦ Loyalty, attachment, kinship/faith ties
◦ Betrayal-trauma, hypocrisy, & disillusionment
 Betrayal of role and responsibilities
 Betrayal of beliefs and teaching
 Ambivalent attachment/conflicted emotions/loyalty
◦ Second Injury
 Enablers (housekeeper, other priests, etc.)
 Passive bystanders (other priests, congregants,
parents, Bishops, Cardinals, etc.)
 Those who should help and don’t
 Lack of investigation, follow-up, silencing
 Disbelievers, blamers, scapegoaters, and attackers
◦ Vicarious injury: collateral damage
◦ Institutional Injury
 Suppression of reports and inadequate
 Lack of reporting to criminal authorities
 Lack of cooperation with investigations
 Non-removal of perpetrators and moving them
from one parish to another with no warning
 Non-pastoral response to victims
 Actively working against victims’ suits & rights
 Statutes of limitation, bankruptcies, etc.
 Expensive defense attorneys
 Questioning of recovered or delayed memories
And the list goes on…
◦ “Just get over it.”
◦ “What’s the big deal?”
◦ “All (litigating) victims want is money and to
bankrupt the Church.”
◦ “It’s homosexuality and not pedophilia”
 Can it not be one or the other or both?
◦ “The Church does not have to report to civil
◦ “The problem is recent and it is over.”
◦ “Management systems are in place”
◦ “Why should I/we apologize for what other
priests/Bishops did?”
Individual and subjective
Initial and short-term:
◦ Wide variety of behavioral, cognitive, emotional,
physical/medical, identity, relational and family
issues and symptoms
◦ PTS and PTSD, depression, anxiety, dissociation,
substance abuse and compulsions
 by victim’s age and stage of development
◦ May be noticed right away, but not understood
◦ Child may not disclose, even when asked directly
◦ Effects and symptoms may go dormant
 Long-term:
 Same: PTS and PTSD, Complex PTSD, dissociation,
depression, anxiety, substance abuse
 Episodic
 Chronic
 Again, manifested by age and stage
Delayed onset: Secondary elaborations of
the untreated original effects
 Cued by current events (positive and negative): media and
other reports of clergy abuse; death of the perpetrator or
others; feelings, thoughts, sensations; relationship and
family issues; children and childrearing; response of
others; institutional response, etc.
Major symptoms (the big three):
◦ 1. Re-experiencing
◦ 2. Numbing/detaching
◦ 3. Hyper-arousal
Associated symptoms
 Depression, anxiety, dissociation, substance
 Co-morbidity: medical and psychological
 Self and relationship difficulties
◦ Alterations in ability to regulate self and
◦ Alterations in sense of self
◦ Alterations in ongoing consciousness
◦ Alterations in relation to the perpetrator
◦ Alterations in relation to others
 MISTRUST, alienation
◦ Physical/medical concerns
◦ Alterations in meaning and spirituality
Understand complex trauma and reactions
Find an experienced therapist
◦ Must understand sexual abuse, special issues of
clergy abuse, complex trauma
◦ Not all therapists have training in the treatment
of trauma
◦ Don’t take this for granted!
◦ Find someone you are comfortable with
◦ The therapy relationship itself is part of the
healing process
Sequenced treatment with three main
◦ 1. Information/education, safety and stabilization,
dismantling defenses/survival skills and managing
symptoms, skill-development including emotional
regulation skills, development of therapeutic
◦ 2. Trauma memory processing: involves acceptance,
grieving, and anger; strategizing about actions
◦ 3. Life re-engagement, meaning, spirituality
Personal SAFETY is the foundation of healing
Support of others is crucial
◦ Develop a support system
Put yourself and your family first
◦ Determine your needs
◦ Family members such as parents can be vicariously
traumatized and may need support and treatment
◦ Explain to children in age-appropriate ways
Re-gain control: Get empowered for you
◦ Treat any addictions/compulsions simultaneously
◦ Challenge old messages and the “lessons of abuse”
 Work to change thoughts and beliefs
◦ Learn to remove/limit triggers
◦ Learn skills to manage symptoms
◦ Approach versus avoid trauma material but with
skills and support in place and in a balanced way
◦ Trauma must be emotionally processed
Use anger for you and not against you
 Healing
is a process
◦ Expect ups and downs
◦ Healing from complex interpersonal trauma is
longer rather than shorter-term
Be unconditional and conditional
◦ Person versus behavior
Expect your own reactions
Vicarious or secondary trauma
Crisis in faith
Engage in self-care and have limits and boundaries
Have own sources of support/outside perspective
Compounded, complicated mourning for
what was and what wasn’t
◦ Multiple layers of betrayal and injury
◦ Takes time and energy
◦ Often involves righteous and justifiable anger
Ambiguous losses
◦ Might not be recognized -> more loss and grief
◦ Might not be supported
Search for meaning and validation
◦ A difficult emotion, must be managed and modulated
◦ Use anger to reverse the lessons and put the blame where it
belongs and not on you
Litigation is one option, not the only one
◦ Can have a high personal cost, better if later in the process,
get information and choose carefully
Personal healing and recovery are the
ultimate goals
Healing Is Possible and
Is Your Right and
Maintain Hope and Solidarity
with Others
 (Survivors Network of Those Abused by
Priests) (International Society for Traumatic
Stress Studies) (International Society for the Study of
Trauma and Dissociation) (National Center for PTSD) (National Child Traumatic Stress
◦ Referral list, help desk, books and videos on trauma

similar documents