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Sexual abuse by clergy


Child and youth sexual abuse by clergy:
Claims of recovered memories

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Recovered memories and clergy abuse:

There have been many past allegations of sexual abuse of children by clergy. However, the accusations reached a very high profile during early 2002 with charges against Roman Catholic clergy in the Boston MA area. This, in turn, triggered other accusations in other Dioceses elsewhere in the U.S.

Many of these claims involved what the media call "recovered memories"

On this web site, we differentiate between "recovered memories" and what we call "dormant memories."

bulletRecovered memories: Many mental health professionals during the 1980s and early 1990s used recovered memory therapy (RMT) to search for abuse events in their patient/client's past. Unfortunately, they used long-term suggestive and experimental therapies, such as hypnotism, guided imagery, visualizations, dream therapy, age regression, past life regression, erc. These often generated many false memories -- images of abuse created after months of therapy. They coalesced into what felt like real memories, but which were unrelated to real events.

RMT therapists believed that memories of abuse during childhood had been repressed at the time by the victim, and only recovered later during adulthood. In almost every case, it is impossible to find evidence that the events actually happened. Many tens of thousands -- perhaps hundreds of thousands -- of victims of this dangerous therapy were generated. A similar number of families of origin were negatively impacted. Some innocent parents went to jail, having been convicted of crimes that never happened.

RMT became generally discredited as a therapeutic technique in the late 1990s, and few mental health professionals continue to use it today. However, recovered memories appear to have come back into vogue with the Boston clergy abuse cases. It has also resurfaced in a modified form, known as Theophostic Counseling

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bulletDormant memories appear to be a different phenomenon. Some sort of trigger results in a flood of memories surfacing very suddenly. The trigger may be the reading of a newspaper article, seeing a photograph, visiting a place from one's childhood, etc. No therapy is involved. The person is often overwhelmed by the memories -- apparently of an event that they had forgotten about. No memory repression is involved; just normal forgetting.

Dormant and repressed memories are very different phenomena. It is our belief that recovered memories are almost never related to real events, and that dormant memories are as accurate as memories that have been continuously remembered since the event. However, most investigators and reporters do not differentiate between the two. As a result, dormant memories have been lumped together with recovered memories, and both are ignored as invalid.

Topics covered in this section are:

bulletA brief overview of recovered memories of clergy abuse
bulletCases involving allegations of recovered memories:
bulletFrom 1993 to 2002 incl.
bullet2003 to 2005
bulletStatement by almost 100 experts in the Shanley case

Related menus on this web site:

bullet Recovered memory therapy
bulletPsychological hoaxes

Copyright © 2002 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JUL-30
Latest update: 2009-OCT-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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