Before Dallas examines the history of sexual abuse perpetrated by a small percentage of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States before the U.S. Bishops’ meeting in Dallas in 2002, where the bishops created the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (also known as the Dallas Charter and Norm). Author Nicholas P. Cafardi, a Catholic who is a canon and civil lawyer, was the second chairman of the National Review Board and presents this historical synopsis of the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church from the days of the Early Church up to 2002.
Cafardi presents the history of how the Catholic Church has historically dealt with sexual abuse of children by its clergy, starting with the New Testament all the way down to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which is the current edition of Canon Law. He shows in clear terms how the Church dealt with abusers of children. The types of investigation, trial and punishment varied over time; the 1983 Code of Canon Law is not as clear about how to deal with this problem.
Beginning with the 1984 case in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, Cafardi moves on to examine the sexual abuse cases in the U.S. dioceses of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1991, Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1992, Dallas, Texas, in 1997, and Boston in 2002. There were, of course, other cases during this period.
Cafardi explores why the U.S. Bishops did not use the Canon Law process to remove abusive clergy. Much of the problem is that understanding how to prosecute abusers became harder under the 1983 Code. The American bishops and canon lawyers were familiar and comfortable to use it when it involved marriages and such but were uncomfortable to use it to prosecute abusive priests since they were not as familiar with this part of the Code. Another problem is that the victims of abuse needed to be involved with the process; many times the victim’s cooperation was not sought to avoid putting them through the pain of having to revisit their abuse. The bishops’ civil lawyers also encouraged them not to contact the victims. Many bishops wanted to provide pastoral care and other services to the victims, and many wanted to just apologize, but their civil lawyers advised against it.
Why didn’t the bishops use the permission they had to begin a quicker process to remove abusive priests? In 1962, the Vatican sent out an instruction to the bishops of the world that said that the Holy Office, the predecessor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had jurisdiction over sexual abuse crimes committed by the clergy. The bishops were informed not to make this instruction public but to place the instruction in their archives. Many of the bishops who received this were either dead, retired, incapacitated, or had simply forgotten about it by 2002. Someone in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recalled it, however, and made it public. If the bishops had remembered this instruction, maybe many removals of abusive clergy could have been achieved more quickly.
The national bishops’ conference in the 1990s set up a committee to investigate what could be done on a national level and to present possible policies to remedy the problem. Unfortunately, the committee’s recommendations were not accepted by the national conference since the media light on abuse had shifted focus to some other news item. Some bishops, though, decided on their own to create policies for their dioceses based on the committee’s recommendations. Ignoring the committee’s recommendations would come back to haunt many bishops in 2002.
Most bishops and religious orders dealt with perpetrators of abuse by sending the abuser to a psychological treatment center for priests and religious to go through the treatment program. He would then be allowed to return to his diocese, where the bishop would assign him to another parish. The therapists told the bishops that the abuser was safe to be allowed to minister again. In reality, the abuser would abuse again, and the process would start over. The bishops relied too heavily on therapists most of the time in allowing abusers to return to ministry. Cafardi discusses what was happening with therapy centers and how they allowed patients to minister outside the center at nearby parishes, where some continued abusing children.
Cafardi reviews what the American bishops have learned from events before 2002, mainly the need to act quickly and publicly when an accusation is presented to them. They have learned not to sweep things under the carpet but to deal with the situation, to offer and provide pastoral and other legitimate aid to victims, and to have a policy and procedural plan for sexual misconduct committed by anyone working with their dioceses. This was a costly and disturbing lesson for them to learn.
Almost a quarter of the book is devoted to endnotes; Cafardi documents his sources exhaustively. He provides a timeline of the sexual abuse canonical legislation and cases, as well as a bibliography that includes newspapers, journals, books, Internet sites, and other sources. His thorough historical synopsis of the child abuse response of the American bishops examines the issue from canonical, civil law, and historical points of view. This book is highly recommended to those interested in the history of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal and what was - or was not - done by the bishops.
Nicholas P. Cafardi is dean emeritus of the Duquesne University School of Law. He received his undergraduate degree from the Gregorian University in Rome, his master’s degree in philosophy from Duquesne University, his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and his licentiate in canon law from the University of St. Thomas in Rome. He was an original member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth (otherwise known as the National Review Board) and was its second chairman until June 2005. He is the author of Tax Exempt Organizations (2008), Understanding Nonprofit and Tax Exempt Organizations (2006), and Legal Process and Procedure (2002), and co-authored with Cardinal Adam Maida Church Property, Church Finances, and Church-Related Corporations (1983).