"There is nobody else to give them advice. They have been involved with men they first thought were caring, and powerful. But if a priest is told to stop seeing a woman, she can feel abandoned."
"Catholic priests are men who are called Father by everybody, except their children, who can only call them uncle," said Ms Alsworth. She named the father of her two daughters - Catherine, three and 18-month-old Francesca - as a Catholic priest.
An existing support group for women who have relationships with Catholic clergy said yesterday there could be "hundreds" of priests involved in secret liaisons.
The spokeswoman for Seven-Eleven, named only as Ann, said the group knew of 80 liaisons for certain, but agreed that, based on hearsay evidence, there were "hundreds" in total.
Speaking on BBC Radio Four's Sunday programme, she said that a common thread with the relationships was that they were initiated by the priests, who had on occasions abused their position of power.
"In some cases women have gone for pastoral care and the situation has been taken advantage of." Ann, herself involved with a priest, said that most of the clerics were emotionally "extremely" immature but reserved most of her criticism for the Catholic hierarchy.
"We want to get the bishops to listen to all the women and indeed listen to their men. They are not doing them any favours by constantly treating them as if any liaison with a woman somehow indicates they are sick."
One hopeful sign was a meeting due shortly between the group and a senior bishop, who had reacted positively to their call for a more open and humane attitude, she said.
Seven-Eleven thinks celibacy should be an option, separate from that of a priestly calling, and wants the church to set up a body which would consider allegations of professional misconduct.
There was a move in this direction at the weekend when Archbishop Keith O'Brien, of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said the Catholic Church in Scotland may consider calling in outside help to investigate future claims concerning the behaviour of priests.Reuse content