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Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic ChurchGender, Power, and Organizational Culture$

Marie Keenan

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199895670

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199895670.001.0001

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(p.277) Appendix The participants in the research

(p.277) Appendix The participants in the research

Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church
Oxford University Press

The main data that are presented on the clerical perpetrators were gathered from the men themselves, and details were verified against data contained in the men’s case files and in Books of Evidence, prepared in the course of criminal proceedings. The reader’s attention is drawn to the fact that the primary research that was undertaken with the clerical perpetrators and that is presented in this book represents a small part of an earlier work. The research that is presented here was not conducted for the purposes of this book alone. The methodology was designed for the original study in such a manner as to preserve the anonymity of the participants and to safeguard their welfare. I realized that by participating in sensitive research on a topic of public importance the participants in my research were in fact offering something back, and my attempt was to enable them to do so without risk to themselves. Concern for the dignity and respect of individual participants is at the heart of research ethics and one of the important ways in which this principle is codified is through the principle of informed consent. Another is in protecting the identity of the individual participants. In undertaking this research my aim was at all times to safeguard the men’s welfare and preserve their anonymity and to help them tell their stories in a manner that might help towards a deeper understanding of the phenomena and ultimately towards prevention of further sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic clergy. This appendix does not describe the methodology or design of the original study in detail but does give the reader an overview of the research participants and of the ethical complexities involved in undertaking such research and in how they were dealt with.

An overview of the research participants

Seven Roman Catholic priests, one religious brother, and one Christian brother participated in this research. Two of the priests were secular clergy and five were religious order priests, although one was working in a diocesan parish ministry. All of the participants, bar one, were older than (p.278) late 50s when they participated in the research. One man was in his 40s. Seven of the men were convicted in the criminal courts for the offenses they perpetrated. The victims involved in two cases did not wish to pursue criminal charges. None of the men function any longer as clerics of a diocese or religious order. One man does light errands for his religious community, and the other men were retired or laicized.

The gender of the victim was not a feature of selection for participation in this study. However, all of the victims were male, except in one case where one man abused an adolescent girl. In six cases the boys were 12 to 18 years old; in two cases the boys were 14 to 18 years old; one man sexually abused boys who were 8 to 14 years old. One man also abused or attempted to abuse up to five seminarians, who were in their early 20s. In two cases, the men abused boys by touching the boys’ genitalia. Neither of these two men ever disrobed or got a boy to touch him. The abuses consisted of the men touching the boys, sometimes inside and sometimes outside of their clothing. In these cases, no other forms of sexual abuse took place. In the other seven cases the range of sexual behaviors extended right across the sexually abusive spectrum.

The abuses took place in the boys’ homes, in the priests’ homes or rooms, in their offices, in cars, in schools, in the boys’ dormitories, and in youth and children’s facilities. The John Jay study (2004, 8) reports that abuses by clerical perpetrators in the United States are also alleged to have occurred in a variety of locations, including the priest’s home or parish residence (40.9%), in a church (16.3%), in the victim’s home (16.3%), in a vacation home (10.3%), in school (10.3%), and in a car (9.8%). In less than 10% of the allegations the abuse occurred in other locations, such as a hotel room or on a Church outing. In my research with the clerical perpetrators there are no allegations of abuse having taken place in a church, but one man is alleged to have abused boys in a shed on Church grounds. The boarding school environment was their home for many children who were abused by the men in this research. These children were dependent on the adults in the school environment to take care of them in loco parentis. Some children describe the absolute desolation they felt during the abusive times, when trapped in boarding schools, without the immediate support of parents.

Two of the men admitted to abusing up to 25 minors over the course of their ministries; others abused fewer children. One man abused or attempted to abuse up to five seminarians. While one man first abused a boy during his studies for the priesthood, the majority of the men, eight in all, began abusing some years after ordination, but mostly within 5 to 10 years. The main point is that seven of the nine men were in their late 20s before they began abusing, one man abused at an earlier age when he was still a seminarian, and another man, who was a late vocation to the priesthood, was older before he first abused. This finding is similar to the John Jay College report and is important because clerical men are generally older than other child sexual offenders when they first abuse.

The frequency of the abuses also shows some interesting patterns. Some abuses can be classified as “opportunistic” and were “once-offs.” In other cases the abuses were more planned and took place on a number of occasions with the same boy. Some men admitted to abusing a boy for a prolonged period, often lasting up to 3 years. If the duration of abusive behavior is calculated by using the date of the first incident of abuse and the date of the most recent reported incident, in seven of the cases the men abused boys and young people for a period of up to 20 years; one man abused for a period of 15 years and the younger man abused boys over a 10-year period. It is important to note, however, that these figures do not necessarily represent continuous abusive activity.

(p.279) Selecting the participants

At the time the study began, the men who were approached to participate in the research had admitted to the abuse of minors and were attending therapy at a treatment facility in Ireland. At that time, clergy and non-clergy participants attending the treatment program were treated in separate therapy groups. I was involved as co-therapist in all of the clergy groups that were running at the time in the center. One group of clergy participants were approached and asked whether they would be willing to volunteer for the research that would be undertaken. The particular group of clergy that were selected consisted of those clergymen who had a long record in taking part in the treatment program, with the exception of one man. These men were selected because I believed they would be in a good position to reflect honestly and openly on the questions posed, as they had spent on average 18 months in outpatient therapy at the time that the research began, and in my opinion they were beyond the point of trying to cover up their abuses or be dishonest with themselves or each other. This group of men were living through a critical time in their lives; some were awaiting legal proceedings and they had all lost their clerical ministries.

While a group setting may be quite a constraining environment for some people, and may even be a force in preventing some from discussing intimate matters, I believed that this would not be so for the men in this research. I was aware from the therapeutic relationship that many of the barriers to intimate and personal disclosure had already been broken down and overcome by the participants in this particular group during the previous months when they worked together in therapy. I was also of the view that the one man who had spent a merely a short period in treatment before participating in the study would be encouraged and brought along by the other men’s participation, and by the depth of their conversation. I was aware from my clinical work of the richness of the conversation that can be stimulated in a group setting, a richness that would be enhanced by inviting the men to ask questions of each other and comment on each other’s responses, as part of the research process. The questions that the men posed to each other and the comments they made on each other’s accounts and explanations served to generate an even greater profusion of important data. By generating the research data initially in a group setting, I was also able to follow up and interview particular individuals later in the course of the research to clarify ideas that were emerging and to fill in gaps in the analytical work. Theoretical sampling facilitated this process.

Ethical considerations

A number of ethical and epistemological concerns arose in conducting this research, all of which were addressed to the fullest extent possible. The main concerns centered on a number of questions: Are clients in therapy free to give informed consent to participate in research, especially when the person asking them to participate is one of their therapists? What are the implications for the therapist/client relationship when this relationship temporarily changes to researcher/researched? Can reporting client narratives in a research project compromise the participants’ confidentiality? And as I was both an insider and an outsider to the research under investigation, given that I was intimately acquainted with the research participants through the therapeutic relationship, would I be able to be sufficiently outside in order to look inside and vice-versa, and how could I be both inside and outside and use this positioning to further the research aims? (p.280) Collecting qualitative data from clients in therapy can be intrusive and demanding no matter what methods the researcher uses, and these issues had to be addressed (McLeod, 2001, p. 15). In this study a number of steps were taken to address the ethical concerns in the following ways.

The Question of Informed Consent

Given the inequalities of power that are present by definition in the therapeutic relationship, with its potential for manipulation and control (McLeod, 2001, p. 18) I was concerned that the clients who were approached to participate in the research might feel obliged to agree to do so or be afraid to refuse. With this concern in mind, a number of safeguards that would ensure that the participants were free to give informed consent were agreed upon between the director of the therapy center, the co-worker in the therapy group, and myself.

Firstly, the idea and purpose of the study was outlined to the selected participants as a group and the proposed research methodology and methods of data generation and analysis were outlined. Issues of confidentiality were spelled out. The participants were given time to think about the proposal and further discussion took place one week later. Confidentiality and fear of identification emerged as real concerns for the group members and included questions regarding the storing and disposal of the research data. Given that the research was being conducted in a small country, with a small group of men, this concern was indeed understandable. No changes in the methods were found to be necessary after the men stated that they merely wanted to voice their anxieties and to seek further reassurances about the research process.

Following these group discussions I met all the potential participants individually. These individual meetings offered potential participants an opportunity to discuss any reservations they had about participating in the study but felt they could not raise in a group setting. It was also used to assess whether any individual was being pressured inadvertently by other group members to participate in the research. The participants were told that I would keep any individual objections confidential, so that no person would be compromised, if he wished not to participate. The men were told that if any group member objected to participating in the research, I would move to another of the groups at the treatment center to seek participants for the study. No individual problems with participation were identified. Thus, individually and collectively, the men indicated their willingness to participate in the study.

As a final safeguard to ensure free and informed consent, the participants had a meeting without the researcher, with the co-therapist in the treatment program, to discuss their involvement in the project. Full participation in the study was affirmed. All participants were given a signed declaration guaranteeing confidentiality and were afforded an opportunity to withdraw their consent at any stage. No participant withdrew consent at any stage of the research. When the requirements of the Ethics Committee of the treatment center were met, the study was given the final approval to proceed.

From Therapy Client to Research Participant

Conducting research with men engaged in psychotherapy creates changes in the therapist/client relationship and therefore this issue had to be addressed. It was important that the men and I understood the ethical distinctions between participating in therapy and participating in research. These changes were managed in this study in the following manner.

(p.281) For the duration of the initial phases of the research the group interviews were conducted for the purpose of the study and my focus was on the research. My role was firmly that of a researcher in the group conversations and interviews. This was explained to the group participants. However, once the initial batch of data had been generated the group reformed as a therapy group, and the co-therapist and I resumed our roles as therapists to the group of men. The men went on to complete their treatment and I continued with my research analysis. Some 18 months later, I moved employment from the therapy center to an academic appointment, by which time many of the men had graduated from the treatment program or were imprisoned.

As the research progressed I reconnected with the participants in various locations and interviewed some of the men individually in order to clarify aspects of my analysis and seek further comment on particular themes that were emerging. This time I returned as the researcher. However, the fact that I had once been their therapist, at a critical moment in their lives, clearly influenced the subsequent relationships. The frankness with which the men shared important and sensitive aspects of their lives may be related to the “trust” that existed from the therapeutic relationship.

The main difference between the therapeutic and the research processes for the men in this research centered on confidentiality and the purpose of the conversations that were taking place. The data gathered during the research conversations would be analyzed and presented in a public forum, unlike the content of the therapeutic conversations, which would not. For these reasons, I committed to giving the men feedback on the research as it progressed, and to giving them the penultimate draft of the study for feedback and appraisal and to eliminate any biographical or identifying personal details, which is what I did. It is just part of the original study that is reported in this book.

Potential Compromise of Confidentiality in Reporting Client Narratives

To overcome the final ethical consideration, that of the potential compromise of confidentiality that is involved when client narratives are reported in a research project, I selected a methodology that would minimize the risks of such breaches occurring. The methodology allowed for the research participants to be involved in the study until its completion and I adopted a process of going back to the research participants many times during the lifetime of the study, and finally with the penultimate draft, for their recommendations on the removal or amendment of any of their biographical or identifying details that they felt might compromise their confidentiality. This method of returning to the participants throughout the lifetime of the research also served purposes beyond the preservation of the participants’ confidentiality; it helped me to follow up on ideas that emerged in the early analysis of the data and it facilitated increased respondent validity.

When the penultimate draft of the analyzed data was written, copies were given to six of the nine research participants for comments and appraisal. One man was deceased and two were unable to participate. This practice was adopted for ethical reasons and to act as a validity check of a kind. I had promised the participants at the outset of the study that they would have access to the research findings before the final account was published to check that confidentiality was not breached and to offer comments that would keep the analysis grounded in their narratives. The men were invited to check that the final document did not contain any identifying details that would amount to a breach of confidentiality. They were asked to consider this fact also on (p.282) behalf of the men who were unable to participate or were deceased. The men were also invited to write comments in red ink on hard copies of the analyzed text and to give an overall impression of each chapter. All six participants gave detailed responses to the copy. Occasionally individual men made additional comments on a particular argument in general or suggested a refinement that related to his own unique case. For example, in one case the participant commented that his history of emotional loneliness did not begin when he entered the seminary, but rather that while he became even more lonely during his seminary training, his emotional loneliness had its origins in his childhood and in his family of origin (see Chapter 9). In another case one participant felt that his history of childhood sexual abuse had had profound effects on his life and subsequent offending, in contrast to other men, where this was not the case (see Chapter 8). In three cases the men asked for a small biographical detail to be omitted that might compromise their confidentiality. The process of going back to research participants was in keeping with the general orientation of the study. However, the argument for going back to the research participants with tentative results and refining them in the light of the participants’ reactions as an attempt to increase validity is not unproblematic (Mason, 2002, p. 193; Silverman, 2000, p. 177). The problem arises if a privileged status is attributed to the respondents’ accounts (Mason, 2002, p. 177; Silverman, 2000, p. 177). This did not arise in my research and the men’s reflections on the analyzed data were woven into the final analysis and were treated as yet another source of data and insight. The final interpretations are mine.