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Boundary Breaking

Boundary Breaking: Ecclesial-cultural Implications of the Sex Abuse Crisis within the Catholic Church 

Boundary Breaking is a three-year research project, in collaboration with survivors and organisations in the Catholic Church, examining if/to what extent aspects of Catholic culture and understanding have contributed to the creation of an environment in which abuse, and its subsequent mishandling, was and is possible. 

Boundary Breaking engages theologically with the issues, whilst drawing on expertise across a range of disciplines including social anthropology, psychology and organisational studies, as well as insights from contemporary research into sexual abuse. 

The project aims to identify and assess areas of potential weakness within the Catholic Church and, where appropriate, consider what role Catholic doctrine and understanding can play in ensuring that safeguarding is not simply a matter of process and policy, but that it is also theologically and culturally embedded within the Church’s self-understanding. 

Those who have been sexually abused can experience devastating and lifelong effects. If you have been affected by sexual abuse, or any form of sexual violence, and wish to report it or seek help, you will find a series of helpful links here. 

All research is conducted in line with University expectations of integrity and impartiality 



Project Team  


Principal InvestigatorDr Marcus Pound, is an Associate Professor of Catholic Theology at Durham University. He has previously worked on the relationship between Catholic theology and psychoanalysis, and has worked extensively on church life in an ecumenical context. 


Co-InvestigatorProfessor Paul D. Murray, is Dean-Director of the Centre for Catholic Studies, Durham University and Professor of Systematic Theology. His current work is a critical and constructive engagement with the Catholic Church, its theology, and the dynamics of its practice. 

Co-Investigator, Dr Giuseppe Bolotta (Assistant Prof. of Research) is a social anthropologist, with a background in clinical psychology. He has worked on Catholic, Buddhist, and secular NGOs supporting stateless children’s rights in the Global South, focusing in particular on children living in the slums of Bangkok, on child labour in the Thai fishing sector, and more recently, on child soldiering and rural childhoods in Sierra Leone. 


Co-Investigator, Dr Catherine Sexton (Assistant Prof. of Research). Catherine has a professional background in international development, particularly in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. She has held senior management positions in VSO and CAFOD and was CEO of Birmingham-based charity Responding to Conflict 2007 – 2010. She was awarded her PhD on theologies of ministry among elderly women religious sisters in the UK in 2018 (Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology, Cambridge/Anglia Ruskin University). 


Project Co-ordinatorMs Yvonne Williams has previously worked on research projects in the Catholic context and will be providing administrative oversight for the project.