Understanding and Addressing the Intersection of Spiritual Struggles and Clergy Sexual Abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore

Loyola University Maryland

Project Description

This project investigates how and under what conditions spiritual struggles are experienced by Catholics and former Catholics as a direct and/or indirect consequence of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic  Church. Spiritual struggles manifest differently, but all spiritual struggles result when individuals  encounter situations or experiences that harm or thwart their spiritual journeys. They represent a type of collateral damage inflicted by the clergy sexual abuse crisis as not only are they experienced by victim survivors, but by Catholics, former Catholics, and those defecting-in-place. The project is a contextual study grounded in the Baltimore area, and will give particular emphasis to understanding how Black Catholics, a marginalized  population with a distinctive history in the Baltimore area including enslavement by the Society of Jesus, are experiencing the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Research and anecdotal accounts evidence the prevalence of spiritual struggles among victim-survivors of clergy-perpetrated sexual abuse.Yet little is known regarding the  “collateral damage” the crisis has caused and how sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church may be contributing to different types of spiritual struggles including struggles with the  institutional Church. Particularly relevant to clergy-perpetrated sexual abuse are perceptions of  sacred loss (loss of the sacred) and desecration (violation of the sacred). The psychological literature suggests unique forms of spiritual struggles may emerge when individuals experience  sacred loss or desecration. More research in this area is clearly needed, particularly as more victim-survivors speak out and the Church works toward greater transparency regarding the complicity of top-ranking authorities. This project aims to uncover the experiences of all Catholics (current and former, White and Black), but is designed to intentionally move the Black Catholic experience from the margins to the center of examination.

Project Staff

Principal Investigators

Gina Magyar-RussellGina Magyar-Russell, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Loyola University Maryland. She is a licensed, practicing psychologist in Maryland and specializes in psychological and spiritual adjustment following adverse life events, with emphasis on the treatment of anxiety, mood, and spiritual problems. Her research focuses on spiritual struggles and their association with mental health, nontheistic sanctification, sacred moments, and the integration of spirituality into psychotherapy. She has served on the Executive Committee of the American Psychological Associations, Division 36, The Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, and has co-authored over 40 publications on religiousness, spirituality and health, as well as depression and anxiety, in a variety of populations. She enjoys teaching courses on the treatment of psychopathology, cognitive behavioral therapy, and the psychology of religion, as well as serving as a doctoral dissertation mentor and supervisor for clinicians in training.

Jill SnodgrassRev. Dr. Jill L. Snodgrass is Associate Professor of Theology at Loyola University Maryland. She is a pastoral and practical theologian, a scholar-activist, and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. Her research focuses on spiritual care and counseling with traditionally marginalized populations. She is the editor of Navigating Religious Difference in Spiritual Care and Counseling (Claremont Press, 2019), the author of Women Leaving Prison: Justice-Seeking Spiritual Support for Female Returning Citizens (Lexington, 2018), and the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters. Dr. Snodgrass has served as a pastoral counselor in churches, shelters, transitional housing facilities, and community centers, and she is the Clinical Director of Spiritual Support at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Joseph Stewart-SickingThe Rev. Joseph Stewart-Sicking, Ed.D., NCC is Professor of Counseling and Chair of the Department of Education Specialties at Loyola University Maryland. An ordained Episcopal priest, he is a counselor, spiritual director, and congregational consultant.  His scholarship has focused on the relationship between mental health counseling and spiritual direction and integrating spirituality and religion into counseling in pluralist settings. He has published numerous articles and books in the areas of counselor education and supervision, career counseling, religion and spirituality in counseling, and spiritual direction, the most recent of which is Bringing Religion and Spirituality into Therapy: A Process-Based Model for Pluralistic Practice (Routledge, 2019).  Dr. Stewart-Sicking has worked in congregational, addictions, and child/adolescent inpatient settings, and serves as a priest in the Diocese of Maryland.


Martin BurnhamRev. Dr. Martin J. Burnham, P.S.S., received his Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision from the Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care Department of Loyola University Maryland in May 2019, with a dissertation titled Conceptualizing and Measuring Clericalism in Roman Catholic Priests. As a native of Baltimore, Maryland, Fr. Burnham is a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and has been a member of the Sulpicians since 2014. Fr. Burnham is currently a licensed professional counselor in the State of Maryland and serves in leadership roles in the American Counseling Association, and is also Director of Discernment and Admissions for the US Province, Society of St. Sulpice.

Rodney ParkerRodney L. Parker, Ph.D. is the acting Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer  and an affiliate faculty member of theology at Loyola University Maryland. He holds a Master of Divinity and Master of Theology from Duke University, and a Master of Science in Pastoral Counseling and a doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision from Loyola University Maryland. He is ordained in the Church of God in Christ and his research focuses on the impact of spirituality and cultural forms of coping on racism-related stress of Black male students at Jesuit Catholic institutions.

Seeking Research Participants  

If you are a Catholic or former Catholic in the Baltimore area18 years of age or older, and are willing to provide information about your religious and spiritual beliefs, practices, and experiences, particularly considering the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church please click on the link below:   


Participation requires you to complete a series of questionnaires online that takes approximately 30 minutes. You will be asked to complete the questionnaires only one time. This is an anonymous survey and no identifying information will be requested on the survey itself.  

Thank you in advance and please feel free to share this opportunity with other Catholics and former Catholics in the Baltimore region who may be interested in participating.  

Please contact Gina Magyar-Russell with any questions at gmmagyarrussell@loyola.edu.