Soul Murder

Sketches of Survivor Imaginaries

In: Exchange
Brian J. Clites Case Western Reserve University

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This article explores the Catholic imaginaries of survivors of clergy sexual abuse by focusing on soul murder, a psychoanalytic concept that the survivor movement appropriated and which has now become central to Catholic survivors’ understandings of their trauma as children. Soul murder names the experience of child sexual abuse as the annihilation of a child’s network of relationships and the ongoing loss as adults of basic relational skills such as intimacy and trust. In addition to losing these social networks, clergy abuse victims frequently lose their relationship with God. This article provides examples of survivors’ efforts to resurrect their faith by reimagining and reconstructing their relationships with one another, God, the sacraments, and the Roman Catholic Church. Through their material culture, reform efforts, home liturgies, and protests, survivors embody a Catholic imaginary whose abundance both enabled their childhood abuse and gives meaning to their adult suffering.

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