Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Arts


In the last two decades 'clerical sexual abuse' emerged as a specific category within the more general phenomenon of male sexual violence. The Australian Catholic Church formulated policies to address this coercive sexual activity by some of its clerical men. 1 employ a feminist approach to call into question these Church responses by examining the significance of gender to issues of male violence and by indicating the Church's disregard of either the systemic or gendered aspects of the problem. This thesis situates Catholic clerical sexual abuse into the religio-social context in which this highly particularised violence occurs.

Reading Durkheim's sacred/profane concept through a feminist lens I situate men who are priests in the Roman Catholic tradition into the social/sacred location in which they perpetrate sexual violence. This thesis thus reiterates crucial feminist perspectives on male sexual violence to insist that these acts of sexual abuse by priests constitute violence; that they are not indicative of individual psychopathology or sexual aberration; and that priesthood, as a specific social structure, supports this violence. Gender analysis of some of Catholicism's discourses and ritual practices reveals an implicit gender bias in the priest/priesthood distinction and allows critique of the Church's failure to examine priesthood as the structure to which its perpetrators belong. This thesis demonstrates that Durkheim's sacred/profane dichotomy provides a valuable theoretical tool to develop an understanding of the connection between religion, gender and violence that is most terribly enacted in priestly sexual violence.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.