The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis: Reform and Renewal in the Catholic Community

The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis: Reform and Renewal in the Catholic Community

The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis: Reform and Renewal in the Catholic Community

The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis: Reform and Renewal in the Catholic Community


The story of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests has sent shock waves around the nation and will not fade from consciousness or the news. We ask, "How could this happen?" And then we ask, "How could the Catholic Church let this continue for so long -- in seeming silence and duplicity?" Paul R. Dokecki, a community psychologist at Vanderbilt University, an active Catholic, and a former board member of the National Catholic Education Association, investigates the crisis not only with the eye of an investigative reporter, but with the analytical skills and training of a psychologist as well. Moreover, he lays the foundation for reasonable and practical reform measures.

Through the scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston as well as the earlier, if less well known but momentous, case in the Diocese of Nashville, Dokecki reports on and analyzes what is ultimately an abuse of power -- not only by the clergy but by church officials. As distasteful as these instances may be, they are compelling reading, enlightened by the author's abilities to contextualize these events through the lenses of professional ethics, the human sciences, and ecclesiology. According to Dokecki, these and other instances of clergy sexual abuse reveal a systemic deficiency in the structure and the nature of the church itself, one that has prevented the church from adequately dealing with its own worst sins.

Dokecki may shine a spotlight into the church's dark corners -- but he does so in the service of enlightenment, calling the church back toward the vision of Vatican II and the spirit of Pope John XXIII -- toward a greater transparency, a more open and participatory governance in the church, and for a greatly expanded role for the people of God who make up the church. It is in this way, Dokecki believes, the church will be better able to keep the innocent children of the church safe from harm.


My aim in this book is to develop a multilevel analysis of clergy sexual abuse, a crisis facing the Catholic Church in the United States and throughout the world. Clergy sexual abuse is a complex personal, relational, and social system in which part relates to part, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Beyond matters of personal responsibility, concupiscence, and criminal or civil liability, the particular encounter between an abusing priest and his child victim takes place in an overlapping set of historically influenced contexts and social structures and processes involving a host of actors inside and outside the church. The clergy sexual abuse system frustrates the public's penchant for simple chains of cause and effect and focused solutions.

In a particularly notorious instance of this morally corrosive problem, the year 2002 saw the latest stages of a clergy abuse scandal that has been plaguing the Archdiocese of Boston since the 1990s and other dioceses throughout the United States since the mid-1980s, although certain aspects of the problem seem to have long been part of church life (Jordan 2000). The New England newspapers, the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and most papers in between, along with the major network television news programs, exposed the (formerly) mostly secret sexual abuse of scores of Massachusetts Catholic children by scores of their trusted priests. The management of this phase of the clergy sexual abuse problem by church officials took the public's typical outrage at the harm done to the abused children and their families to new and unprecedented levels. Associated Press readers selected the clergy sexual abuse scandal as the third most important story of 2002.

The Boston story was nationally and internationally important because many of these acts of abuse and the church's problematic response took place on the watch of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, for years the dean of the American . . .

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