Before Dallas: The U.S. Bishops' Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse of Children

By Beal, John P. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Before Dallas: The U.S. Bishops' Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse of Children


Beal, John P., The Catholic Historical Review


Before Dallas: The U.S. Bishops' Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse of Children. By Nicholas R Cafardi. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press. 2008. Pp. xii, 255. $27.95. ISBN 978-0-8091-0580-9.)

Nicholas Cafardi, former dean of the Duquesne University Law School, trained in both American and canon law, and a charter member of the American bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Youth (the "National Review Board"), is well situated to write a book that provides deep insight into how the sexual abuse of young people by members of the Catholic clergy was handled and mishandled by church authorities. Unfortunately, this is not that book.

Cafardi's book is divided into six chapters: "The Canonical Crime of Sexual Abuse of a Minor by a Cleric: An Historical Synopsis" (pp. 1-9), "The Scope of the Problem: An Historical Synopsis" (pp. 10-14), "The Canonical Landscape: The Failure of the Penal System" (pp. 15-46), "What Did the Bishops Do?" (pp. 47- 11 2), "The Treatment Option" (pp. 115-41), and "Canonical Lessons to Be Learned" (pp. 146-55). The reader will find none of these chapters entirely satisfying. For example, the historical synopsis reads the history of canonical norms dealing with sexual sins involving clerics from the vantage point of the recent crisis and concludes that the sort of sexual abuse of young men by priests with which we have become all too familiar of late has been endemic to the Church since the age of the fathers.This anachronistic reading involves a recounting of historical data without the benefit of historical perspective. The account of what the American bishops did in response to their growing awareness of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests is equally unsatisfying. …

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