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Church in Crisis: Historical Context and Personal Analysis: Articles & Blog Posts

In support of USD's Church in Crisis site, this guide provides resources for further study.

"A Crisis About the Theology of Children"

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

"Why It's So Hard to Hold Priests Accountable for Sex Abuse"

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

  • Warner, a professor of political science at Arizona State University, situates the Church’s handling of abuse accusations against the 20th century history of the Code of Canon Law.

"Clericalism, Conversion, and Church Reform"

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

  • Includes links to several other articles and commentaries naming “clericalism” as a key problem.

"Religious Institutions and Sexual Scandals"

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).

  • Abstract excerpt: “Drawing on previous literature, I identify three perspectives related to responses to sexual scandal in organized religious institutions: strategic self-presentation, lay activism, and church–media relations. Focusing on the Catholic episcopal conferences in the three settings and relying on an analysis of national-level bishops’ discourses and practices in the 1988–2013 time span, I find that Catholic legitimations predominate, but appeals to Catholic discourses are more frequent in South Africa than in Ireland and the United States; lay mobilization exerts a partial influence on scandal responses even in contexts providing sociopolitical space for activism from below; and external accountability is influenced by media organizations, but differently so, in all three contexts.”


"Religious Disillusionment and the Cross"

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

  • Abstract: ” This essay applies recent scholarly insights on disillusionment as a cultural and psychological phenomenon to the problem of religious disillusionment as experienced by US Catholics in the wake of scandals of clergy sexual abuse.”

“What is Catholic About the Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis?”

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.

“Four Incomplete Ways of Reforming the Church”

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

  • Four DT editors suggest church reforms to the crisis. For teaching, useful for suggesting the wide variety of diagnoses and remedies made by Catholics.

"The Real Reason the Catholic Church Remains Plagued by Abuse Scandals"

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

  • Cossen, a historian of Catholicism focused on the 19th century, looks at some deep roots of clerical vs lay control in the U.S. Catholic Church.

"Colonialism and the Crisis Inside the Crisis of Catholic Sexual Abuse"

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

  • Holscher, associate professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at the University of New Mexico, argues that colonialism affects both which abuse we consider “significant” and the dynamics of abusive communities, noting that dioceses and orders serving largely white communities in the eastern and midwestern United States often sent their “problem” priests to the largely Native and Hispanic mission territories of the west.

"Beyond Accountability"

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

  • Abstract excerpt: “This essay takes up as a queer archive, demonstrating both its effort to liberate victims from the clerical closet and its insistence on the political act of making stories about sex public. Queering this archive also challenges the normative politics of queer history, prompting historians to ask what it would mean to take up the conjunction of these two sites, sexual abuse and Catholicism, as queer—to account not only for sexual practices we value politically but also those we contest.”

Forum: Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church

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

"How Did This Happen?"

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

  • by a former Catholic seminarian.
  • Parts 1, 2, and 3 argue (his words): that the crisis was caused by  “a completely closed and insular clerical culture which prioritized its own autonomy from judgment by non-clerical institutions, and which developed a culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” with regard to sexual indiscretions formed in light of its own internal struggles around the fact that a majority of its members were closeted gay men, and which was also struggling with shrinking numbers, thus was incentivized toward doing whatever possible to keep priests in the fold and on duty, while lacking robust tools to recognize the true harm and danger of the sexual abuse of children.”
  • Part 4 focuses on solutions.

"The Catholic Church's Grim History of Ignoring Priestly Pedophilia"

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

  • Very assignable short article on the longer history of the abuse crisis, from one of the primary scholars working in this area.