The Hero and the Monsignor: Law, Sexual Violence, and the Catholic Church

This project examines the sexual abuse of minors through a case study of lawsuits brought against a Catholic archdiocese for failure to prevent sexual abuse by priests. With permission from the plaintiff’s family (who is now deceased) and the efforts of one of plaintiffs’ attorneys who redacted the names of other parties and witnesses, the project authors have obtained the entire case file from beginning to end.

This project will produce a book and a series of articles that will examine questions about the sexual abuse of minors within institutions and how the law has responded to it. The research will examine the legal consciousness of parties and plaintiffs in cases of sexual abuse of minors; the lawyering involved in mounting and defending such lawsuits; the likely scope and character of clerical sexual abuse in the defendant archdiocese in the period leading to the lawsuit and the organizational processes that hid this abuse; how the lawsuit put a price on abuse in awarding economic settlements to the plaintiffs but also provided other kinds of noneconomic relief; and the likely effectiveness of new safeguards adopted by the archdiocese in the aftermath of the lawsuit as measured in annual audits conducted by the archdiocese from 2005 to present.

This rare access to a case will allow the researchers to see the dynamics at work in the Catholic Church that allowed such abuse to occur and go unreported. It will illuminate the problem of sexual abuse in institutions and the capacity of law to address this problem.