Learning LIST-Learning

Clergy abuse – Spiritual and religious beliefs

Sexual abuse by clergy and members of faith communities and the failures of religious organisations to report criminal offences or deal with allegations in appropriate, just or healing ways, has had a profound impact on individuals, families and communities.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse clearly details the profound impact of institutional clergy abuse and the barriers and difficulties that confront those who have been victimised.

Spiritual and religious beliefs and practices, and being part of a faith community, can offer many people a sense of purpose and belonging in their lives, as well as valuable support and encouragement during tough times. However, sexual abuse committed within religious communities can shatter a person’s faith, trust and belief, resulting in some people breaking away from a particular church, group, or organised religion.

Those sexually abused within religious contexts experience particular difficulties. Some boys and men do not tell of sexual abuse out of concern it will distress religious family members. The shame and guilt associated with same sex sexual contact and threat of disconnection from faith community can be used by those perpetrating abuse to maintain silence.

A number of religions promote ‘forgiveness’ as a pathway towards healing. For some, offering ‘forgiveness’ can be personally empowering, whereas, for others offering ‘forgiveness’ to those who sexually abuse is insulting and unthinkable.

Faith, religion and spirituality can be a personal journey of discovery. For those who are interested, it can be useful to seek out someone who will support you, without pressure, to explore how you might choose to incorporate faith and spiritual practices into your life.

Questions to consider:

  • Have you experienced pressures to ‘forgive’ the person or people that abused you?
  • What sorts of reasons have you heard about why you ‘should’ forgive?
  • Do these ideas fit with your own ideas about your own sense of well-being?
  • Are there aspects of spiritual practices or beliefs that continue to be important to you now?
  • What has helped you to remain connected to these beliefs or practices?