, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 277-299

Child sexual abuse and the Catholic church: An historical and contemporary review

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Abstract

Although the recent revelations of clergy sexual abuse suggests an unusual and recent epidemic among the Catholic church, the historical record suggests this difficulty has plagued the church over the centuries. The recent effort of investigative reporters and adult survivors alleging sexual abuse by clergy, has led to an increased public awareness of the extent of illegal sexual activity occurring in the church. Opinion polls of Catholics in the United States have evidenced a critical view of the Church's administrative response to the crisis. Recently, criminal and civil cases have successfully challenged the negligence of the church hierarchy and the sexual misconduct by some of its members. Judicial decisions, however, tend to not hold churches liable for the sexual acts of their clergy. Despite continuing press coverage and civil/criminal litigation, research on priest offenders is virtually nonexistent The claims of unprecedented treatment success with clergy offenders has not been supported by published data. Given the high recidivism rates of sex offenders, the Catholic church should reconsider its policy of placing known sex offenders back into active ministry.