Discussing clerical misconduct concerning adults


Three major aspects need to be included in any discussion of clerical sexual misconduct involving adults (CSMIA): language, power and vulnerability, and harm, writes Stephen de Weger at Eureka Street.

Language and definitions surrounding CSMIA, consent, celibacy and vulnerability are of major importance in coming to a balanced understanding of this phenomenon. CSMIA continues to be commonly defined as simply a mutually consensual affair, albeit sinful and canonically illegal. However, when perceived as abuse of power, abdication of fiduciary duty, or the crossing of ethical and professional boundaries, a very different discussion emerges.

For example, when defined as such, instead of the focus being on the victim/survivor and whether they consented to such a relationship or not, it shifts to the behaviour and role of the professional/cleric. All the experts reviewed agree that the responsibility for all professional sexual misconduct lies with the more powerful person – the professional/cleric.

Until such behaviour is discussed and defined under these more professional concepts, aspects such as consent, power, vulnerability, and harm are not considered seriously or intelligently enough to do justice to the reality of victims/survivors.

That fact that clerical positional power has been used as a tool for the abuse by both male and female clerics is obvious – the evidence lies in the stories of victims/survivors themselves.

The power imbalance is not the issue – all professional interactions are based on such an imbalance, and indeed this is why professionals are sought out: for their expertise. However, in such a professional context, the more vulnerable person can easily be manipulated and abused.

But clergy are not only religious "professionals" – they become family friends, youth group leaders, and are involved in any number of everyday activities in parish life. This mixing of professional power with more personal or intimate roles can lead to a blurring of boundaries.


Language, power and harm in clerical sexual misconduct (Eureka Street)


Archdiocesan statement in relation to Mrs Eileen Piper (Catholic Melbourne)

Royal Commission to investigate Tasmanian bishop (Church Times)

Sexual abuse and the Catholic Church in the Philippines (Al Jazeera)

Confronting sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (Otago Daily Times)

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