Part I of the Article discusses the two hundred year history of the Roman Catholic Church in America. Internationally the Church has over a billion members, but the American Church has distinctive characteristics that have allowed it to prosper and serve as a model for other nations.
Growth, involvement, wealth, and a nexus between being American and being Catholic evidenced by cooperation with civil authorities are among the characteristics. The Charter is now a marker in that history. Part II examines what happened to bring about the crisis of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. In spite of the horrific acts committed against victims by priests, the public focus was always on the bishops and their role in the scandal, specifically the failure of internal policing, of accountability, and of consistency between the message of the Church and the persons in authority. Part III analyzes the bishops' response to the scandal, the adoption of the Charter and the Revised Norms that implements the Charter's goals. The bishops' response seeks to accommodate secular legal standards with the canon law of the Church regarding treatment due the clergy. But the overriding objective is the accommodation of openness, accountability and assurance that the offense will not be countenanced again, and furthermore, that the Church renews its partnership in the church-state dialogue. If canon law procedures are viewed as, or actually become, an effort to return to clericalism, clerics supervising clerics with even the perception of secrecy, the goals of the Charter will fail and the Church will face stricter state scrutiny. But canon law may be accommodated within secular standards of definitions, preliminary investigations, reporting, standards of proof, statutes of limitations, and judgment. Analysis is provided in this article. One suggested model derives from lessons learned from the procedures developed in an effort to combat domestic violence in the United States. Finally, Part IV examines the laity's response to the crisis. The Second Vatican Council, occurring from 1962-1965, invigorated the role of the laity so that millions of men and women serve in parish, diocesan, and archdiocesan activities in addition to contributing funds and receiving the sacraments. In response to the crisis, some of these men and women have formed organizations and want to be a part of any solution, concluding that their participation should extend to every level of the organization. Such lay efforts are a challenge to some bishops and others in authority, not just in reference to addressing the abuse crisis, but also extending into doctrinal issues.
Raymond C. O'Brien, Clergy, Sex, and the American Way, 31 PEPP. L. REV. 363 (2004).