Daily Theology

A Catholic Abuse Crisis Syllabus (v3)

Editor’s Note: The most recent version of this syllabus can also be seen in an updated post at https://dailytheology.org/2019/01/17/an-updated-catholic-abuse-crisis-syllabus/.

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, though of course 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 a number of university-level instructor/scholars, and includes both documents and articles they have assigned to students, and those they have used to educate themselves. It focuses on analysis that falls broadly in the realm of the social sciences (including history), along with journalism and primary source documents. It is intended for frequent revision and expansion; if you have something to contribute please chime in in the comments or email me at abusecrisissyllabus@gmail.com.  Please send both a link and a short summary of the resource.  To reference the syllabus on social media, please use #AbuseCrisisSyllabus.

The version you are reading right now is Version 3, dated December 19, 2018. Thanks to all who sent in additional resources following Versions 1 and 2, especially Brian Clites; please keep them coming!

Other Syllabi

Primary Sources (by date, earliest first)

 The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Investigation (January 2002 ff)

Philadelphia Grand Jury Report (September 17, 2003)

John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “The Nature and Scope of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States 1950-2002” (the “John Jay Report”), February 2004

Deposition of Archbishop Rembert Weakland, Milwaukee (October 24, 2011)

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse, Australia (2012-2017; final report December 2017)

Pennsylvania Diocese Victims Report/Report 1 of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury (July 27, 2018)

“Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God” (August 20, 2018)

Zita Ballinger Fletcher, “Abuse Victims Say They Felt Hurt by Ordinary Catholics’ Lack of Compassion,” Catholic News Service (August 20, 2018)

Historical Context and Personal Analysis: Books & Dissertations (by date, earliest first)

 [This list mixes personal narrative, journalism, and scholarship from a variety of fields including history, sociology, and psychology.]

Jason Berry, Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children (1992).

Anson D. Shupe, In the Name of All That’s Holy: A Theory of Clergy Malfeasance (Praeger, 1995).

Donald Cozzens, Sacred Silence: Denial and Crisis in the Church (Liturgical Press, 2002).

Mark Jordan, The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism (University of Chicago Press, 2000).

Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis (Oxford, 2001).

Frank Bruni and Elinor Burkett, A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church (Perennial, 2002).

Mark Jordan, Telling Truths in Church: Scandal, Flesh, and Christian Speech (Beacon, 2003).

Regina Quinn et al., editors, The Structural Betrayal of Trust (London: SCM Press, 2004).

James E. Muller and Charles Kenney, Keep the Faith, Change the Church: The Battle by Catholics for the Soul of Their Faith (Rodale Books, 2004).

Thomas G. Plante, Sin Against the Innocents: Sexual Abuse by Priests and the Role of the Catholic Church (Praeger, 2004).

Timothy D. Lytton. Holding Bishops Accountable: How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sexual Abuse (Harvard, 2008).

 Tricia Bruce, Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful is Changing the Church (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Marie Keenan, Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: Gender, Power, and Organizational Culture (Oxford University Press, 2013).

James T. O’Reilly and Margaret S.P. Chalmers, The Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis and the Legal Responses (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Brian Clites, “Breaking the Silence: The Catholic Sexual Abuse Survivor Movement in Chicago, 1943-2002” (Ph.D. diss, Northwestern University, 2015).

Robert Orsi, History and Presence (Harvard University Press, 2016)

Historical Context and Personal Analysis: Articles and Blog Posts (by date, earliest first).

 [Currently this list mixes academic journal articles and book chapters, magazine/news articles, and analytical blog posts; some links lead to paywalled resources.]

Robert Orsi, “A Crisis About the Theology of Children,” Harvard Divinity School Bulletin 30, no. 4 (2002).

Michael C. McCarthy, S.J., “Religious Disillusionment and the Cross: An Augustinian Reflection,” The Heythrop Journal 48, no. 4 (July 2007): 577-92.

Norbert Rigali, “Moral Theology and Church Responses to Sexual Abuse.” Horizons 34 (2): 183–204.

Forum: Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church, The Immanent Frame (August 2012)

Tom McCarthy, “The Called, the Chosen, and the Tempted: Psychologists, the Church, and the Scandal,” American Catholic Studies 125, no. 4 (Winter 2014): 1-49.

Brian Conway, “Religious institutions and sexual scandals: A comparative study of Catholicism in Ireland, South Africa, and the United States,” International Journal of Comparative Sociology (September 2014).

Anthony Petro, “Beyond Accountability: The Queer Archive of Catholic Sexual Abuse,” Radical History Review (2015).

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.

 Michael Boyle, “How Did This Happen?,” Sound of Sheer Silence (February 2017), Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Carolyn M. Warner, “Why It’s So Hard To Hold Priests Accountable for Sex Abuse,” The Conversation (August 17, 2018).

“Four Incomplete Ways of Reforming the Church,” Daily Theology (August 18, 2018)

William S. Cossen, “The Real Reason the Catholic Church Remains Plagued by Abuse Scandals,” The Washington Post (August 23, 2018).

Massimo Faggioli, “Trent’s Long Shadow: The Abuse Crisis and Seminaries, Dioceses, and the Laity,” Commonweal (August 23, 2018).

B. Kevin Brown, “Clericalism, Conversion, and Church Reform,” Daily Theology (August 27, 2018)

Rebecca Bratten Weiss, “Abuse, Clericalism, and the Culture of Obedience,” Patheos (September 10, 2018)

Brian Clites, “The Catholic Church’s Grim History of Ignoring Priestly Pedophilia–and Silencing Would-Be Whistleblowers,” The Conversation, October 9, 2018.

Special Section: The Abuse Crisis, Colonialism, Missions, and Minority Communities in the United States

 Kathleen Holscher, “Colonialism and the Crisis Inside the Crisis of Catholic Sexual Abuse,” Rewire Religion Dispatches (August 27, 2018)

The Silence (Frontline documentary) (2011)

Aaron Schrank, “Immigrant Communities were the ‘Geographic Solutions’ to Predator Priests.” (November 8, 2018)

Emily Schwing, Aaron Sankin, and Michael Corey, “After Years Of Sexual Abuse In Native Communities, Jesuits Sent Many To Retire On Gonzaga’s Campus” (December 17, 2018)




Catherine R. Osborne holds a Ph.D. in theology from Fordham University and is a historian of Catholicism.