Family narratives of crisis and strength: A phenomenological study of the effects on the family system when a child has been sexually abused by a Catholic priest
This qualitative research study examined the effects priest sexual abuse of children has had on the family system in order to learn more about what family therapists need to know when working with these families. The theoretical foundation for this study was family systems theory.
The research questions were examined using the phenomenological research method in order to capture the families' rich meanings. Participants were recruited on a local, statewide, and national level. Purposive and snowball sampling yielded a sample of 18 participants from 12 families. They included mothers, fathers, sisters, husbands, wives, and adult children of persons who were sexually abused by a priest as a child. Three of the participants had also been abused by a Catholic priest.
The researcher conducted 16 face-to-face, semi-structured, audio-taped interviews. Two participants were interviewed by telephone. Verbatim transcripts were read multiple times and categorized by content using a color coding system. Two themes emerged from the analysis of the interviewed data, Crisis and the Functionality of Silence and Crisis and Growth Through the Mettle of Faith. Under the first of these umbrella themes were the concepts of silence and the emotional strain on the family. Blind faith and eyes wide open were the concepts that explicate the second theme. Direct quotations from the participants' narratives give voice to their lived experiences and illustrate each theme.
This study was conducted by a Catholic nun who is also a family therapist. The researcher's voice was included in Chapter Five to provide transparency for the research process and to describe some of the effects this study had on her spiritually and professionally.
The results of the study were compared with a review of the literature. Conclusions were drawn, and implications for abused families and for family therapists working with similar families are provided. Recommendations for future research and for the field of family therapy are discussed.