This blog explores both sexual/emotional relationships with Roman Catholic priests and abuse by Roman Catholic priests. This blog includes abuse because of the power differential between priests and lay people*; consent on the part of the lay person can be compromised from the relationship’s inception. Some women who have experienced these relationships consider themselves victim-survivors of abuse and others consider themselves a willing participant in the relationship. Both interpretations of the experience are equally valid, because they are highly dependent on the participant’s state of mind.
*while men and women are involved with relationships with priests, for the sake of brevity, I will often simply use “women”
However, consensual relationships with priests can cause a significant amount of emotional distress for the woman involved because of the prohibition against such relationships in the Catholic Church. Therefore, the emotional well being of women involved with priests becomes collateral damage because of these relationships—relationships which often only amount to an attempt on the part of the priest to deal with some internal pain. Priests sometimes do love the lay person they are in a relationship with, and some leave the priesthood for him/her, but this is not always the case. Priests’ romantic relationships with lay people cause hurt for a great deal many people.
The frequency with which this happens is unacceptable, yet what is more intolerable is the fact that lay people who experience this are virtually without any kind of structural support. Because many women do not consider themselves “victims” they cannot join or be helped by victims’ advocacy groups for victims of clergy sexual abuse. Some women do not identify with these groups because they were used (or abused) emotionally, but not sexually. Some women simply do not yet have the language to articulate even to themselves what the relationship meant, but they’re aware they are worse off for it, and many feel it is their fault.
This blog is on the long journey with you, and mostly, it’s to say: it’s not your fault.