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Clergy, leaders within the church, and religious institutions primarily serve to provide spiritual and moral guidance, fostering a healthy community for their devoted followers. Therefore, the severe harm experienced by victims when subjected to clergy sexual abuse is a profound betrayal of trust. This betrayal extends beyond the individual perpetrator to include the religious institution itself, which allowed the abuse to happen through the manipulation of trust and faith.

In recent times, the Catholic Church has faced national and international scrutiny due to the pervasive and systematic issue of child sexual abuse within its ranks. Additionally, the Church’s choices to overlook (and at times conceal) the truth about the crimes committed by serial sexual predators within its churches and schools have come under significant criticism.

Regrettably, the systemic problem of child sexual abuse by trusted leaders extends beyond the Catholic Church. Instances of abuse by clergy from various faiths are extensively documented. Numerous religious organizations possess structures and cultures that foster and facilitate the sexual abuse of vulnerable members, including: 

Catholic churches and schools operated by diocese and religious orders (nuns, brothers, etc.);
Mormon Church (LDS) (also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints);
Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA);
• Methodists and other mainline Protestant churches (Presbyterian, etc);
• Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and/or Pentecostal churches;
• Mennonite and other Anabaptist traditions;
• Jehovah’s Witnesses (Watchtower);
• Eastern and New Age religious organizations;
• And more.

Here are 6 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that we see often.

1. What is clergy sexual abuse?

Clergy sexual abuse refers to any sexual misconduct or exploitation perpetrated by members of the clergy, which includes priests, ministers, pastors, rabbis, imams, and other religious leaders, against individuals under their pastoral care. This form of abuse violates the trust and authority that clergy members hold within their religious communities.

Clergy sexual abuse can take various forms, including:

• Sexual Assault: Unwanted physical sexual contact or coercion.

• Sexual Harassment: Inappropriate or unwelcome sexual advances, comments, or behavior.

• Exploitation: Taking advantage of an individual’s vulnerability, often under the guise of spiritual guidance.

• Child Sexual Abuse: Sexual misconduct or exploitation perpetrated by clergy members against minors.

• Misuse of Power: Exploiting the power imbalance between a religious leader and a congregant for sexual purposes.

2. How prevalent is clergy sexual abuse?

The unfortunate truth is that sexual abuse is not uncommon within religious groups, with offenders all too frequently exploiting their trusted roles. In numerous instances, revered religious leaders and esteemed members of congregations face accusations of sexual abuse and exploitation within their institutions. These individuals not only misuse their positions of authority but often find shelter within the very organizations they serve.

Disturbing statistics concerning sexual abuse within the Catholic Church amplify the gravity of the issue. According to a Pew Research survey, approximately “nine-in-ten U.S. adults—including 95% of Catholics—have heard at least ‘a little’ about recent reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by Catholic priests and bishops.”

3. Why does clergy sexual abuse happen?

Clergy sexual abuse is a complex and multifaceted issue with various contributing factors. While the causes can vary, several common factors may help explain why clergy sexual abuse happens:

• Abuse of power and authority – clergy members often hold positions of trust and authority which are often exploited.

• Cultural and institutional factors – some religious institutions foster a culture of secrecy or denial, making it difficult to come forward. Cover Ups also feed into the institutional desire to protect the church’s reputation.

• Lack of oversight and accountability – a lack of checks and balances create environments where sexual abuse can occur without consequences.

• Isolation of clergy – due to the nature of their roles, clergy can feel isolated and may lead to the abuse of power.

4. What are the consequences for clergy involved in sexual abuse?

It’s important to recognize that the consequences may vary depending on the jurisdiction, the policies of the religious institution, and the specific circumstances of each case. The acknowledgment and response to clergy sexual abuse have evolved, with many religious organizations taking steps to address and prevent such misconduct. Some of these consequences include:

• Criminal and/or civil lawsuits and charges

• Removal from ministry, defrocking or excommunication

• Reparations or restitution

• Public scrutiny 

5. What impact does clergy sexual abuse have on victims?

Clergy sexual abuse can have profound and lasting effects on victims, encompassing various dimensions of their lives. The impact is not only physical but extends to emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects. Here are some common consequences of clergy sexual abuse on victims:

• Trauma and/or PTSD – nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety are common in victims of sexual abuse.

• Emotional distress – feelings of shame, guilt, anger or depression.

• Spiritual crisis – given the religious context and abuse by a church leader, the result can often be a reevaluation of their spiritual beliefs.

• Impact on relationships – difficulty maintaining healthy relationships in or outside of the family.

• Isolation and alienation – victims often become withdrawn from social activities.

6. How can individuals support victims of clergy sexual abuse?

Recognizing sexual abuse is crucial for prevention and resultion of sexual abuse. 

• Listen and Provide Support: Foster a compassionate and empathetic atmosphere when someone confides in you about their experience. Survivors often grapple with feelings of confusion and shame and may face skepticism from others, intensifying their trauma.

• Promote Reporting: Encourage survivors to report the abuse to the relevant authorities, such as law enforcement or Child Protective Services (CPS). If the survivor is unable to report the abuse themselves, take the initiative to make a report. (Remember: Reporting abuse is not only the morally right thing to do to aid the victim and prevent others from being victimized in the future, but it is also a legal obligation for many individuals under state reporting laws.)

• Advocate for Professional Assistance: Motivate survivors to seek therapy or counseling from experienced trauma care professionals who can assist them on their healing journey.

• Promote Awareness: Educate yourself about the indicators of sexual abuse and the resources available for survivors. 

It’s important for sexual abuse victims to know that they are not alone and there are resources available to help. Here are some other resources for sexual abuse victims that can provide support and assistance.

At Crew Janci, our approach to trauma-informed support is grounded in principles of empathy, understanding, and profound respect for the unique experiences of survivors. Recognizing the individuality of each survivor’s journey, we consistently prioritize their well-being in our approach. 

Contact Us in Oregon Today!

9755 SW Barnes Road, Suite 430, Portland, Oregon 97225
(888) 407-0224
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You are not alone. We are here to help.

Peter Janci

Peter has represented more than one hundred victims of sexual abuse over nearly a decade. In Spring of 2010, Peter Janci served as part of the Plaintiff’s trial team in Kerry Lewis v. Boy Scouts of America — a child sexual abuse trial in Portland, Oregon that resulted in a $19.9 million verdict for the Plaintiff. Peter has tried a number of jury and bench trials, in addition to representing clients at arbitration and meditation. Peter has also helped obtain dozens of other significant settlements for other survivors of sexual abuse.