A study of clergymen and lay teachers charged with sexual offences against children

Prof. Olav Nielssen1

1Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

Background: There have been an increasing number of clergymen, and also lay teachers, charged with sexual offences against children, many of them quite historic

Aim: To describe the demographic, clinical and criminological features of a sample of clergymen charged with sexual offending and compare them with those of lay teachers charged with similar offences

Methods: Review of a sample of 32 offenders referred to the author for evaluation over charges that were before the courts.

Results: The offenders and the offences were heterogeneous in nature, and ranged from indecent assaults put down to affection to serial homosexual rape. Although most of the offenders identified as heterosexual the offences predominantly involved male victims. Most of the offences were very historic, and took place early in the careers of most of the offenders. Most offenders did not meet the accepted criteria for the diagnosis of any psychiatric disorder, and the diagnoses of the remainder included dementia, depression, anxiety disorder and alcohol abuse. A feature of the sample was the very early induction into religious orders, and the very high level of education of many of the members.

Discussion: The overwhelming majority of the offenders in this series, as has been the case of those prosecuted for institutional child sex offences, were from the Catholic Church. The presentation will review the history and effect of the vow of celibacy, the cultural background of recruitment into the Catholic Church in Australia, issues around prosecuting very historic sexual offences.


Dr Nielssen is a psychiatrist in private practice with appointments at St Vincents Hospital, Macquarie University and performs a weekly clinic at the Matthew Talbot Hostel for the homeless.

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