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Guest Blog: Hope in the Research, #3

Nov 14, 2018

Since 2008, FaithTrust generously has posted a continuing document I compile, Annotated Bibliography of Clergy Sexual Abuse and Sexual Boundary Violations in Religious Communities. Intended as extensive and broad, the Bibliography, as of the semi-annual update of November, 2018, includes 80+ additions. It is now 1,710 pages, excluding the Introduction. From the new entries, four themes which deserve attention are identified below.

By Rev. James S. Evinger

Since 2008, FaithTrust generously has posted a continuing document I compile, Annotated Bibliography of Clergy Sexual Abuse and Sexual Boundary Violations in Religious Communities.  Intended as extensive and broad, the Bibliography, as of the semi-annual update of November, 2018, includes 80+ additions. It is now 1,710 pages, excluding the Introduction.  From the new entries, four themes which deserve attention are identified below.

First, however, I offer a personal note. In 2018, I participated as an expert witness in a civil case on behalf of the plaintiff who, as a minor, was sexually abused by a minister in the plaintiff’s religious denomination. During my pre-trial, videotaped deposition, the denomination’s defense attorney reviewed my qualifications and sought clarifications for the record being created by a certified court reporter.

When he came to this Bibliography, the defense counsel asked, quite incredulously, whether I had read all the entries.  My answer was simple: yes, unless the annotation specifically notes otherwise. Despite my being under oath, I don’t think he believed me. I could have added that yes, maintaining this Bibliography requires a disciplined commitment to locate potential sources, retrieve the items, read them, and compose an annotation. Without an annotation based on direct review, the Bibliography would lack an important basis for the reader to determine an item’s potential relevance. Yes, I read these – for the sake of readers and as a commitment to support those who support FaithTrust’s vision and mission.

1. Theme:  Australia researchers in academic, clinical, and human service provider settings continue to produce numerous and enlightening contributions to the literature.

In the Bibliography, Part 2, under IIb. Quantitative Research, see:  Blakemore, Tamara, Herbert, James Leslie, Arney, Fiona, & Parkinson, Samantha. (2017). The impacts of institutional child sexual abuse: A rapid review of the evidence. Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal, 74, (December):35-48.

This is a rare and remarkably comprehensive in-depth literature review of peer-reviewed articles and government inquiry reports regarding extra-familial child sexual abuse which was committed in institutional contexts, i.e., “child sexual abuse perpetrated in schools, foster care and out-of-homecare, residential schools and care facilities, sporting organizations, hospitals and religious institutions.” Religious institutions includes churches and institutions, like schools and residential facilities, operated by churches. The authors observe that “institutional abuse is characterised by relationship dynamics of betrayal, secrecy, exploitation of power, and contexts in which disclosure is considered prohibited to the victim.” Regarding the implications: “This review has found that institutional child sexual abuse may have more similarities with the impacts and underpinning dynamics of intra-familial abuse as compared to other types of extra-familial abuse.”

For another example, in Part 3, under IId., see:  McAlinden, Anne-Marie, & Naylor, Bronwyn. (2016). Reframing public inquiries as ‘procedural justice’ for victims of institutional child abuse: Towards a hybrid model of justice. Sydney Law Review, 38(3):277-309.

Their proposed hybrid model begins with some features of restorative justice and then goes beyond, integrating elements of procedural justice as a way to expand survivors’ experience of justice.  The context of institutional child abuse, as defined in the Blakemore et al. review article, is addressed.

Observation:  Australia is a continuing source of evidence-based perspectives from multiple disciplines and professions which offer fresh insight and practical recommendations. [Editor's note: Amongst other factors, the Royal Commission Into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse may be one of the reasons that so much valuable research is emerging from Australia.]

2. Theme:  Trauma-informed responses to sexual violations are available in the secular, clinical literature.

As an example, in Part 1, see the useful guide to the clinical framework of trauma-informed care in the context of responding to survivors of sexual assault: National Sexual Assault Coalition Resources Sharing Project, & National Sexual Violence Resource Center. (2013). Building Cultures of Care: A Guide for Sexual Assault Services Programs. Harrisburg, PA: National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Among topics addressed is the spirituality of the survivor as part of culturally-competent services.  Also addressed is the spirituality of the service provider, a factor in self-care.

Observation:  Understanding trauma and working to implement trauma-informed responses to survivors of sexual boundary violations would be significant steps for faith communities, especially religious denominations, to decrease re-victimizing those who come forward.

3. Theme: Significant material regarding cases in the Roman Catholic Church continues to surface.

In Part 3, IV., see the journalist-style investigative report regarding acts of women religious at a former orphanage in Burlington, Vermont:  Kenneally, Christine. (2018). We saw nuns kill children: The ghosts of St. Joseph’s Catholic Orphanage. BuzzFeed News, (August 27).

While this Bibliography does contain some accounts of women religious committing sexual abuse of children, the depth of Kenneally’s reporting is an exception. Publication spurred the Vermont attorney general to open an investigation.

The second item to note is one which I have scanned, but have yet to read carefully.  In Part 3, XIII. Materials to Locate, under F. U.S.A., see:  Pennsylvania Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. (2018). Report I of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. (Redacted by order of Pennsylvania Supreme Court, July 27, 2018.) Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Office of Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Report, which is 884 pages, is remarkable in its scope – the Church’s dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton are covered in the investigation.  Findings state that approximately 1,000 minors were sexually abused over 7 decades by 300+ priests, and that Church leaders covered-up the abuse.  Under-reported in the media, however, are the recommendations by the Grand Jury for changes in state law.

Apart from the findings and recommendations, the Report is highly significant as a catalyst for actions by law enforcement authorities throughout the U.S.A. As of late October, 2018, state authorities are pursuing information from the Church in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Pennsylvania.  In addition, officials of the U.S. Department of Justice based in Philadelphia are reported to have opened a regional investigation.

Observation: Secular law enforcement’s pursuit of Church records ensures that we will continue to learn more information for years to come.

4. Theme: Derived from feminist theory, intersectionality continues to help draw attention to peoples who have been marginalized and are less visible in the dominant media.

In my reading, I pursue a lot of footnotes and citations, particularly regarding cases involving those who have been marginalized due to factors of race/color, gender, and/or poverty. The feminist concept of intersectionality is particularly useful in giving visibility to stories which are not part of the dominant culture. 

In Part 1, see:  Stout, Roberta, & Peters, Sheryl. (2011, August). kiskinohamâtôtâpânâsk: Inter-generational Effects on Professional First Nations Women Whose Mothers are Residential School Survivors. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.: The Prairie Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health.

This study “set out to understand the inter-generation legacy of residential schools on First Nations women,” with an emphasis on the well-being of professional First Nations women whose mothers had attended a residential school. [The residential school system in Canada during the 19th and 20th centuries was a government-funded system operated by religious organizations as a way “‘to accomplish colonial goals.’”  The results were tragic: “Children witnessed and/or were the victims of repeated abuse – from verbal assaults to rape and other bodily indignities.”   “…the study responded to calls for gendered analysis of women’s mental health issues and to previous research findings that colonization and ongoing colonial practices are at the root of many Aboriginal women’s mental health issues.” The study’s focus on professional women is a way to understand “the dynamics of resiliency” in First Nations women.

[Following footnotes and references was also how I discovered a qualitative study of generations of Cree in Québec and Ontario provinces. In Part 3, under IX. Theses and Dissertations, see:  Blacksmith, George. (2010). The intergenerational legacy of the Indian residential school system on the Cree communities of Mistissini, Oujebougamau and Waswanipi: An investigative research on the experiences of three generations of the James Bay Cree of Northern Quebec. [Ph.D.] Montréal, Québec, Canada: Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University.]

Observation:  The framework of intersectionality leads to a more profound understanding of the experiences of survivors whose vulnerability is affected by demographic factors which dominant culture devalues or discriminates against.

The growth of this Bibliography since it was begun in 1995 is an encouraging sign of the increase in global attention to the problem of sexual boundary violations in faith communities.  The growth also reflects the increased quality of knowledge about the problem, and about best practices for prevention and intervention.


About the Author: Rev. James S. Evinger

Rev. Evinger is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), retired, who worked 10 years in urban congregations, and 30 years in health centers with people with psychiatric illness and developmental disabilities in state institutions in Pennsylvania and New York, and held teaching and research appointments in the School of Nursing and the School of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY.  He has 23+ years of experience with cases of sexual boundary violations in churches, including ecclesiastical, civil, and criminal cases.


You can read Rev. Evinger's previous blogs:


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