Date of Degree
William "Jock" Young
Karen J. Terry
Diana R. Gordon
The problem of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the United States has been problematized as a phenomenon that is, in part, a distinction of the priesthood. Although it is known that there are sex offenders in the world who are not, nor were they ever, priests, this study sets forth to uncover whether or not the priests in the sample are, in fact, different on typical psychological risk factors than the at-large sex offender. More importantly, in the absence of notable differences on risk factor characteristics, this study explores the ways in which narrative structures are used to tell difficult stories. It also supplements an understanding of the specificity of the problem of abuse in the Church, and the ways in which priests use both classic vocabularies of motive as well as vocabularies that are culturally rooted. The narratives paint a picture of the ways accused priests make sense of their identity as men, as moral leaders, and as men accused of sexual abuse, particularly as these are understood within the Catholic subculture of sin, repentance, and redemption. The specific risk factors described are deviant relationships to sexuality, social interaction deficiencies, and low esteem. In general, priests are no different on most of the measures, and when they are the comparative sample sizes are small, requiring a cautious use of the findings to make universal claims regarding priests. What is unique to the priesthood is the trajectory of the story of coming to this peculiar master status, and the mechanisms for managing the allegations made against them which, whether true or not, interrupt the priest's narrative. Priests use similar stigma management techniques as other sex offenders with victims who are minors and/or adults. Some priests in this sample denied allegations outright or, when they admitted to them, engaged in the process of disavowal from the "sick self", often after they had received some sort of treatment. Admitters also used typical techniques of neutralization, the content of which, at times, were illustrative of an understanding of self as fallible and forgivable.
Vollman, Brenda K., "Identity and Behavior: Exploring an Understanding of “Being” and “Doing” for Catholic Priests Accused of the Sexual Abuse of Minors in the United States" (2011). CUNY Academic Works.