Late Breaking: A Church in Crisis: Catholic Sex Abuse in Historical Context

AHA Session
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Continental C (Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level)
Jack Downey, La Salle University
Erin Bartram, Independent Scholar
William Cossen, The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Catherine Osborne, St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker
Susan Ridgely, University of Wisconsin-Madison
The Audience

Session Abstract

This panel brings together the perspectives of history, religious studies, and theology to discuss the Catholic Church’s ongoing crisis of clerical sex abuse. Although this crisis is not a new one in the Catholic Church, a Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August made evident to a much larger audience the sexual abuse perpetrated by Roman Catholic priests against children, and church officials’ systematic covering up of that abuse. This pattern of abuse and institutional cover-up has international dimensions, with similar accounts emerging in several countries.

The scholars participating in this panel will engage in a conversation analyzing the current Catholic sex abuse crisis both historically and historiographically and will offer recommendations for how the international Catholic Church can more effectively use the lessons of the past to pursue a course of justice and substantive reform.

This roundtable discussion on religion, gender, sex, sexuality, and power will seek answers to these and similar questions:

  • How has historians’ failure to more centrally situate Catholicism in their narratives weakened their ability to effectively analyze the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church,
  • To what extent has Catholic scholarship’s inattention to larger historical interpretations of women, gender, and sexuality rendered it unable to adequately comprehend the church’s current crisis?
  • How has the political project of empire, and the forms of racialization that spin out of it, become a layer in the power dynamics that underscore clerical sex abuse?
  • In what ways can child victims of clerical sex abuse be more effectively centered in scholarship on the crisis?
  • In what ways is this a specifically Catholic crisis?
  • How can scholars use space and place to better understand the abuse crisis?
  • To what extent have scholars unwittingly suppressed and silenced credible accounts of Catholic abuse in the historical record?
  • What roles should Catholic laypeople and the state play in reforming church governance?

Audience comments and contributions are welcomed and encouraged.

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