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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 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 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. 

Post-Doctoral Research Associate Dr Catherine Sexton has a professional background in international development, working both in senior management within CAFOD and VSO and as a freelance consultant to the sector. 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). Her most recent role was Director of a three-year research project in collaboration with the CCS and the Margaret Beaufort Institute on the future sustainability of the apostolic form of religious life for women in East and Central Africa.

Post-Doctoral Research Associate (2021-23) Dr Pat Jones completed a PhD studying Catholic homelessness charities in relation to Catholic social teaching. She previously worked in senior management in CAFOD and Depaul International and as Director of a prisoners’ charity. Her initial post-doctoral work focused on listening to the voices of women whose lives are affected by prostitution.

Former Post-Doctoral Research Associate Dr Giuseppe Bolotta was a member of the team from October 2019 until December 2020. He is a socio-cultural anthropologist and psychologist. Prior to joining the team he conducted extensive fieldwork in Thailand, exploring religious, humanitarian and state institutional policies for poor children living in the slums of Bangkok (Thailand). Dr Bolotta is has now moved to a new fully tenured post at the University of Venice. 

Research Assistant Mr Adrian Brooks is in the final stages of completing a PhD at Durham University. His doctoral research is on contemporary Catholic ecclesiology, with a focus on the relationship between doctrine and ecclesial structures. He has previously worked in secondary education and university chaplaincy and is an associate lecturer at Newcastle 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. 

The Project research team reports to a steering group three times each year.


Project Steering Group

Julie Clague lectures in Catholic theology at the University of Glasgow.

Brendan Geary is a Marist Brother and Clinical Psychologist, and is a member of the Care and Protection Commission of the two Unions of Superiors General (UISG and USG), which are based in Rome.

Mathew Guest is Professor in the Sociology of Religion and Head of the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University.

Frances Healy is a retired teacher and psychotherapist. She is a member of Safe Spaces and the Survivors Training Trust (STT). A victim-Survivor of clerical abuse. 

Matthew Hemson is a therapist and an associate lecturer in mental health at the University of West England.

Michael Holman SJ is a member of the Society of Jesus and superior of the Jesuit community in London.

Dom Christopher Jamison is Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation.

William Kent is a grant manager for global philanthropic organisation Porticus, where he advises in the area of child protection within the Catholic Church. Previously, he worked for the Catholic Bishops Conference of England & Wales in a range of areas, including the response to IICSA.

Karen Kilby is the Bede Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, and provides CCS oversight of the project.

Jim McManus is a Chartered Psychologist, Vice President of the UK Association of Directors of Public Health, Director of Public Health for Hertfordshire and a Doctoral Theology Student at the University of Roehampton.

Barry O’Sullivan has been a diocesan priest for 34 years and is an Independent Safeguarding Consultant.

Catherine Pepinster is a journalist, author and broadcaster who was editor of The Tablet, the Catholic weekly, for 13 years.