By Catherine R. Osborne, Ph.D.
In the spirit of the Ferguson Syllabus and other crowdsourced collections of academic and other resources, this post collects articles, books, primary sources, and teaching suggestions on the clerical sexual abuse crisis within the Catholic Church. It’s mostly intended for theologians and historians who intend to address the crisis with their students in a wide variety of classes, from introductory courses in theology up through the graduate level, but like any list of articles and books, it can be used by anyone for the purposes of understanding more deeply the current crisis in the Church.
This list is not, as will be immediately obvious, a complete bibliography on the crisis. It was compiled from suggestions by several theologians and historians, and includes both documents and articles they have assigned to students, and those they have used to educate themselves. It is intended for frequent revision and expansion; if you have something to contribute please chime in in the comments or email me at email@example.com. Please send both a link and a short summary of the resource. To reference the syllabus on social media, please use #AbuseCrisisSyllabus.
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(by date, earliest first)
- Huge archive of news articles divided into 9 topics (Predator priests, scandal and coverup, victims, financial cost, law and the laity, the church’s response, the clergy, investigations/lawsuits, and opinion), interactive features (a map of accused priests in Boston, a database), depositions (by Cardinal Law and others).
- BishopAccountability’s site on the report includes a breakdown and reorganization of its contents along with links to other reports, news articles, and various responses.
- Archbishop Justin Rigali’s letter to the Archdiocese, September 21, 2005
- Rigali’s remarks at press conference, September 21, 2005
- Commissioned by the USCCB in 2002
- Weakland’s deposition gives insight into both standard procedures around abuse cases and episcopal mindset/thinking.
- Extensive collection of resources including documents, videos, earlier reports and papers, as well as the final report.
- Here’s one news article summarizing a few key points.
- The “Pennsylvania grand jury report” is downloadable from this website, along with a separate PDF that includes official responses by a number of dioceses and invidual priests named in the report. Also included is a 5-minute video of survivor interviews.
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Historical Context and Personal Analysis: Books & Dissertations
(alphabetical by author)
Brian Clites, “Breaking the Silence: The Catholic Sexual Abuse Survivor Movement in Chicago, 1943-2002” (Ph.D. diss, Northwestern University, 2015).
- Publisher says: “The past decade has seen homosexual scandals in the Catholic Church becoming ever more visible, and the Vatican’s directives on homosexuality becoming ever more forceful, begging the question Mark Jordan tries to answer here: how can the Catholic Church be at once so homophobic and so homoerotic? His analysis is a keen and readable study of the tangled relationship between male homosexuality and modern Catholicism.”
- Publisher says: ” The subtle and passionate meditations that make up Telling Truths in Church are thus both a response to the scandals and an attempt to think beyond them to a more comprehensive understanding of what they might mean—for Catholicism in particular, but more broadly for all the Christian churches. In five chapters, Jordan writes of speaking of secrets about sex and about same-sex love; the telling of truth to and about God; and acknowledging our feelings about God’s flesh. He also considers forms for suppressing and for offering truths, and the way language may reveal or hide them.
- Keenan is an Irish psychotherapist who has worked with both survivors and perpetrators of clerical sexual abuse.
- Publisher says: “Linking the personal and the institutional, researcher and therapist Marie Keenan locates the problem of child sexual abuse not exclusively in individual pathology, but also within larger systemic factors, such as the very institution of priesthood itself, the Catholic take on sexuality, clerical culture, power relations, governance structures of the Catholic Church, the process of formation for priesthood and religious life, and the complex manner in which these factors coalesce to create serious institutional risks for boundary violations, including child sexual abuse. Keenan draws on the priests’ own words not to excuse their horrific crimes, but to offer the first in-depth account of a tragic, multi-faceted phenomenon.”
- By two lawyers/canon lawyers.
- Publisher says: “Clear explanation of the Catholic Church abuse scandal in the U.S.; probes how church law protects bishops from accountability; deals directly with “repressed memory” incidents and belated crime reporting; places blame for priests’ improper behavior on failings of church accountability processes; considers reforms and best practices to be applied in the light of the scandal”
- Chapter 7, “Events of Abundant Evil.”
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Historical Context and Personal Analysis: Articles and Blog Posts
(by date, earliest first)
Robert Orsi, “A Crisis About the Theology of Children,” Harvard Divinity School Bulletin 30, no. 4 (2002).
- Abstract: ” This essay applies recent scholarly insights on disillusionment as a cultural and psychological phenomenon to the problem of religious disillusionment as experienced by US Catholics in the wake of scandals of clergy sexual abuse.”
- Editor Kathryn Lofton updated her introduction, August 24, 2018, with a brief history of how the Forum came about and a short new reflection in light of the release of the PA grand jury report.
Robert Orsi, “What is Catholic About the Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis?,” in The Anthropology of Catholicism: A Reader (University of California Press, 2017), 282-92.
- by a former Catholic seminarian.
- Parts 1, 2, and 3 argue (his words): that the crisis was caused by “a completely closed and insular clerical culture which prioritized its own autonomy from judgment by non-clerical institutions, and which developed a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with regard to sexual indiscretions formed in light of its own internal struggles around the fact that a majority of its members were closeted gay men, and which was also struggling with shrinking numbers, thus was incentivized toward doing whatever possible to keep priests in the fold and on duty, while lacking robust tools to recognize the true harm and danger of the sexual abuse of children.”
- Part 4 focuses on solutions.
- Warner, a professor of political science at Arizona State University, situates the Church’s handling of abuse accusations against the 20th century history of the Code of Canon Law.
- Four DT editors suggest church reforms to the crisis. For teaching, useful for suggesting the wide variety of diagnoses and remedies made by Catholics.
- Cossen, a historian of Catholicism focused on the 19th century, looks at some deep roots of clerical vs lay control in the U.S. Catholic Church.
- Includes links to several other articles and commentaries naming “clericalism” as a key problem.
- Holscher, associate professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at the University of New Mexico, argues that colonialism affects both which abuse we consider “significant” and the dynamics of abusive communities, noting that dioceses and orders serving largely white communities in the eastern and midwestern United States often sent their “problem” priests to the largely Native and Hispanic mission territories of the west.
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- Magdalene Sisters (2002)
- Calvary (2014)
- Spotlight (2015)
- Deliver Us From Evil (2006)
- A Matter of Conscience: Confronting Clergy Abuse (2014)
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