Marie E. Bouclin presents cases of women abused by Roman Catholic priests, often pastors or spiritual directors. The abuses reported here fall primarily into two kinds: sexual abuse and employer abuse such as dismissal because, in one case, the woman working for the pastor told him that his spending on expensive vacations and other indulgences was bankrupting the parish. Her book is based on interviews and experiences reported in support groups that she has initiated.
While priests’ abuse of children has been widely reported, the abuse of women is much less known. Bouclin admits that men have also been abused, but her focus in this book is on women. She establishes early that her analytic tool is primarily through an understanding of codependency, which she explains and applies consistently. The power that priests wield in a closed. male-only hierarchy forms one half of the codependent relation; women raised to see priests as “sacred” and those who must be obeyed unquestioningly are the other half. I am not a psychologist, but it seems to me that she makes a good case supported by the strength to end their relation with a priest, or recover from it, through Allernon or other programs similar to the Twelve Step method.
Bouclin is understandably passionate about this problem in the Roman Catholic Church. As a theologian and church historian, I find her analyses in these areas weak. It is difficult to know whether the caricature of the Eucharist as sacrifice and its relation to hierarchical power plays is her theological opinion or the women who seem, as a group, to have been badly educated themselves or are stuck in a pre-Vatican II mentality. For example, on page 52 I wasn’t sure whether Bouclin thinks that the church ties grace to the sacraments exclusively or that the women she writes about think so. The doctrine of the church since Augustine at least is that God can and does act not only through the sacraments but in other ways as well.
Bouclin suggests that priestly abuse would end if the church scuttled its doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ and confined the Eucharist to a thanksgiving meal. It would also entail a non-hierarchical reorganization and the ordination of married men and of women. Bouclin will find many sympathetic readers with regard to these points that duplicate the theology and structure of some Protestant churches. Women in these churches may be ordained, but often the wider cultural suspicion of women as leaders indicates that these changes are no panacea. The wider culture still allows for glass ceilings and women appointed to subordinate positions even though in seminary they surpassed their male supervisors in academic and pastoral courses.
In short, this book is useful for laying out cases that point to abuses tolerated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It suffers from repetitiveness and a superficial theology that fails to draw upon the best feminist work available today.