The Catholic priest : a witness to the seasons of life : an exploratory investigation of the perceptions and responses to spousal abuse
Nellissery, Joy Thomas
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There are over 1.45 billion Catholics in the world who are ministered to by over 405,000 priests. For majority of Catholics, priests play a central role in their lives. Each year more abuse victims, perpetrators and family members seek help from clergy than from all other helping professions combined. Yet in the research arena the clergy have been largely ignored as a source of help for the abused population. In addition, available research on effective clergy response to abused women has been solely based on the reports of the victim. The purpose of this study was to investigate the perceptions, understanding and response of Catholic priests to spousal abuse. A descriptive qualitative design that used in depth semi-structured face-to-face interviews for data collection was utilized in this study. Three documents that reflect the official stand of the Catholic Church were used as supplemental sources of data. The sample of 11 purposefully selected Catholic priests reflected diversity in age, ethnicity, race, education, years of ordination, seminary of formation, and focus of their ministry. Three research questions guided this study: 1) What are Catholic priests, perceptions regarding spousal abuse? 2) How do Catholic priests personally understand spousal abuse? 3) How do Catholic priests address the issue of spousal abuse within families and the parish community at large? Data analysis, guided by the constant comparative method, revealed three major categories: Perceptions, Understanding and Responses. Priests perceive spousal abuse as a real problem that cuts across all ethnic and racial structures. They are aware that it can be physical, psychological, sexual or spiritual. They understand spousal abuse as a personal and private matter. Their response to the community is evasive and indifferent. Priests brought forth the concept of spiritual abuse as a form of spousal abuse. Specific conclusions from the data are: 1) Priests have a general understanding of spousal abuse. 2) Priests’ responses to the individual victim are of pastoral compassion and band-aid focused. 3) Priests’ response to the parish community is indifference and evasive. 4) Priests lack basic knowledge or community and Church resources.