A Dissertation Presented to the College of Psychology of Nova Southeastern University
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Abstract: Sexual abuse perpetrated by trusted members of the clergy presents unique challenges to clinicians and yet the current literature on the effects of clergy sexual abuse is sparse. The vast majority of current research on clergy sexual abuse is based on the perspective of the perpetrators and not the survivors. Some literature suggests that clergy sexual abuse is equivalent to incest due to the level of betrayal trauma associated with each form of abuse. The current study seeks to examine the effects of clergy perpetrated sexual abuse on survivors and examine those effects in the context of the general literature on childhood sexual abuse. Adult male and female survivors of clergy sexual abuse were recruited online and asked to complete a series of self-report measures of religiosity, spirituality, and traumatic symptomology, including the Spiritual Beliefs Inventory (SBI-15R), Spiritual Wellbeing Scale (SWBS), and the Trauma Symptoms Inventory-2 (TSI-2). Participants also provided demographic information and completed a structured self-report questionnaire of history of sexual abuse. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) indicated that there were no between-group differences on measures of trauma or existential belief, but found that those abused by clergy reported lower levels of religious beliefs and practice, less social support from their religious community, less satisfaction with their relationship with God, and were more likely to have changed their religious affiliation. These data suggest that abuse perpetrated by clergy has a unique and
measurable impact on survivors’ future religiosity and spirituality as compared to other forms of childhood sexual abuse.