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Religious Abuse


Clerical Abuse

It is difficult to define what “religious abuse” means, as it carries with it implications of forcing someone to believe in a faith, but principally it is abuse committed by someone who is a representative of a religious body.

Usually the abuse takes the form of:

The abuse occurs as a result of the religious representative taking advantage of his/her position of responsibility within the religious organisation.

There has been widespread publicity surrounding the abuse by and criminal conviction of priests of the Catholic Church all over the world leading to several leading legal precedent judgments in the higher courts concerning the scope of the responsibility of the church for the criminal behaviour of priests.

Numerous legal arguments have been advanced by, principally, the Catholic Church, that they are not responsible for the actions of their priests, because there does not exist a relationship of master and servant between the priest and the church. It has been unsuccessfully argued that the role of a priest is a “calling” rather than a job, and that they depend for their income upon what is put into the collection on the Sabbath. As such they are not answerable or paid for their work by the Diocese of the Catholic Church, but are rather self employed individuals fulfilling a vocation, answerable to their congregation. The transparency of such arguments has been defeated in a number of high profile appeal cases in the Court of Appeal and House of Lords. As such the church is held to employ their delegate, and is responsible for his/her actions.

There have been a number of scandals surrounding abuse by priests in the Catholic Church where abusive priests have been moved from parish to parish after being found to have abused children, and have not been reported to the police, the crimes remaining undiscovered for many years. The justification for such behaviour has been alleged to have derived from firstly the concept of forgiveness of sins by the confessional priest, and secondly due to the dictates of the church of Rome in an edict circulated in the early 1960’s which forbad disclosure to outside bodies.

Typically, the member of the religious organisation meets the child through his/her work in the religious organisation, and goes through a grooming process, which eventually leads to abuse.

In the same way as other types of child abuse, the crime often remains a secret for many years. The victim is sometimes silenced out of fear for the consequences threatened by the religious representative eg “eternal damnation”. Abuse is often represented to be quite normal, and part of  “growing up”.

The abuse has been alleged to include satanic abuse committed as part of a religious ritual, and justified by the “rules” of the sect to which the abuser belongs.

Typical settings for religious abuse are:-
  • Within the religious building eg. in the vestry or robing room
  • In a car during a trip
  • In the representative’s lodgings
  • On a  holiday organised through the religious body

There are other locations too numerous to mention, the common denominator being any cloistered location, where the abuser can get the child victim alone in private.

Various papers and guidelines have been published by churches as to the correct procedure to adopt when an allegation of abuse is made against the Church. Often counselling is offered in return, but rarely an open offer to compensate the victim, hence the need to instruct solicitors.

In order to preserve the reputation of the religious body, complainants have been asked to sign “confidentiality agreements”, which are in essence a “hush” document, designed to stop the victim going to the media, and damaging the reputation of the religious body responsible for employing the abuser.

The abuse can be categorised into physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

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