Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

Practice What You Preach: How Restorative Justice Could Solve the Judicial Problems in Clergy Sexual Abuse Cases

Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

Practice What You Preach: How Restorative Justice Could Solve the Judicial Problems in Clergy Sexual Abuse Cases

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

The molestation at the hands of my uncle, priest and namesake began on Thanksgiving Day 1953. I was 5 years old. . . . The abuse continued for approximately 9 years until I reached puberty at age 14. . . . He would often abuse me right in my parents' home. He would excuse us saying he was going to hear my confession and take me to my room where the abuse would occur. On February 7, 2000, I reported my bi-polar illness was the result of child sexual abuse . . . .1

The case of Wells v. Janssen2 resulted in a million-dollar jury verdict for J. W., the above-quoted plaintiff, after a lengthy trial, an admission, and a later recantation by the offending priest. Many other victims of clergy sexual abuse fail to receive this level of compensation, however, because the court system prevents them from reaching the trial stage. The discrepancies in judicial treatment of victims in similar situations based solely on where they live have led victims around the country to demand an alternative that will treat them equally and provide a satisfactory remedy from the offending priest and the Catholic Church.3 When the Church and priest fail to satisfy a request for an apology, victims typically respond by filing lawsuits against the priests and the institution, and the Church becomes less cooperative as the threat of financial ruin looms.4 Though most lawsuits name both the Church and the individual offending priests as defendants, the Church is the defendant with financial resources and therefore faces the largest financial burden.5 This Note proposes that the best way to break this cycle would be for the Church and the offending priests to meet with the victims and settle the problems outside of the judicial system. Though victims could turn to any method of alternative dispute resolution, restorative justice could provide the most successful model. Restorative justice brings together the victims, the offenders, and the community to talk about the harm and to come to a mutually agreeable remedy, while focusing on compassion, rehabilitation, and equalization of the power imbalance among the parties. Thus, this Note suggests that victims and the Church should consider the benefits of applying a restorative justice approach to the particular problems of clergy sexual abuse.6

To begin, Part II of this Note will detail the history of the crisis in the Catholic Church, including the cover-up perpetrated by Church officials. It will present the remedies developed by the Church and explain why those remedies have not sufficiently satisfied the victims. Part III will define restorative justice and its varying applications in both individual and institutional contexts. Part IV will then explain why this issue requires an alternative remedy like restorative justice by describing the current drawbacks of judicial remedies. It will detail the psychological underpinnings of litigation and demonstrate why victims may prefer a non-judicial remedy like restorative justice to encourage healing. It will also argue that statutes of limitations and the varying interpretations of the First Amendment's religion clauses may prevent some members of the Church "Body" from receiving a judicial remedy.7 Part V will explain a possible method for applying restorative justice and examine some potential complications with its application. After offering solutions to these difficulties, this Note concludes that restorative justice could serve the needs of all the parties involved including the Church, the priests, the victims, and the community, and lead to a more constructive and satisfactory resolution than those provided by the courts.8

II. The Problems in the Catholic Church

In 1990, Frank Fitzpatrick, a victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of Father James Porter, decided to contact his abuser.9 When Frank asked him how many children he had molested, Father Porter replied, "I don't know. There could have been quite a few. …

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