As media in the United States revealed the number of minors sexually abused by clergy, the gravity of the offenses, and the inability to prosecute the offenders, a second offense was revealed. Gradually it was illustrated that bishops and their diocesan administrators knew of credible sexual crimes against children committed by clergy and they responded by protecting offenders, ignoring victims, and knowingly reassigning credibly accused clergy to other placements where they could endanger additional minors. In response to these developments the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published policies to protect children, enacted norms to be followed in each diocese, made repeated statements that apologized for grave errors, and worked with victims and independent audits to review continuing efforts to comply with secular civil laws. Arguably clericalism formed the rationale that permitted child endangerment; addressing clericalism remains the issue in child protection and the current culture wars within the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholic officials in the Vatican incrementally addressed the sexual abuse of minors by clergy by issuing reporting requirements, redefining crimes of sexual abuse, and willingly removing offending clergy from ministry. Most recently, Pope Francis abolished secrecy of files pertaining to sexual offenses, established a mechanism for prosecuting bishops who endanger children and vulnerable adults, and indicating an intent to work more closely with secular authorities at the local level. Nonetheless, in spite of efforts to end secrecy, disestablish the state-within-a-state and fully cooperate with secular authorities, continuing instances of purposeful child endangerment are revealed in dioceses such as Buffalo, New York. In response, many states abolish their civil and criminal statutes of limitations, continue to publish state grand jury reports, initiate look back windows to permit civil suits against offenders, and operate abuse hot lines to invite further reporting of sexual abuse. Public attention has shifted from acts of sexual abuse of minors to confronting the apparatus by which children could knowingly continue to be endangered. This Article addresses the question of why persons responsible for administering the Roman Catholic Church in the United States would knowingly endanger children after receiving credible evidence of the possibility of sexual abuse by a cleric for whom they were responsible. Thus, this Article goes further than the crime of sexual abuse of minors, it addresses the actions of those who knowingly endangered additional children. While positing child endangerment upon the desire to protect the state-within-a-state that exists within the United States, this Article argues that the remedy lies in adherence to a spirit of openness sanctioned by Vatican II. While the Church struggles with this, the State will increasingly pursue accountability.
Raymond C. O'Brien, Church and State and Child Endangerment, 56 Crim. L. Bull. 601 (2020).