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Holding Bishops Accountable

How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sexual Abuse

Timothy D. Lytton

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Harvard Uni.Press Academi
30 May 2008
The sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy is arguably the most acute crisis Catholicism has faced since the Reformation. The prevalence of clergy sexual abuse and its shocking cover-up by church officials have obscured the largely untold story of the tort system's remarkable success in bringing the scandal to light, focusing attention on the need for institutional reform, and spurring church leaders and public officials into action.

Stories of the tort system as an engine of social justice are rare. Holding Bishops Accountable tells one such story by revealing how pleadings, discovery documents, and depositions fueled media coverage of the scandal. Timothy Lytton shows how the litigation strategy of plaintiffs' lawyers gave rise to a widespread belief that the real problem was not the actions of individual priests but rather the church's massive institutional failure. The book documents how church and government policymakers responded to the problem of clergy sexual abuse only under the pressure of private lawsuits.

As Lytton deftly demonstrates, the lessons of clergy sexual abuse litigation give us reason to reconsider the case for tort reform and to look more closely at how tort litigation can enhance the performance of public and private policymaking institutions.
By:  
Imprint:   Harvard Uni.Press Academi
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 156mm,  Spine: 24mm
Weight:   590g
ISBN:   9780674028104
ISBN 10:   0674028104
Pages:   304
Publication Date:  
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Timothy D. Lytton is the Albert and Angela Farone Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School.

Reviews for Holding Bishops Accountable: How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sexual Abuse

This book will be of immense value to scholars of law and society yet also reads well to the layperson interested in the sexual abuse scandal involving Catholic clergy. Lytton does well in narrowing his research to give proper historical context to the sexual abuse scandal while simultaneously discussing the scandal as emblematic of institutional failure requiring institutional reform. -- R. S. Lorenz * Choice * Timothy Lytton hits the nail on the head with this provocative book about the institutional failure of the Roman Catholic Church that led to the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of innocent children. Never before has the American tort system played such an influential role in educating the public and encouraging massive change in the way children are protected. -- Jeff Anderson,Trial Attorney, Jeff Anderson & Associates, P.A. Finally there's a fair-minded and thorough look at the impact--positive and negative--of the legal arena in the Catholic Church's on-going sex abuse and cover up scandal. For those who want to better understand this crisis, and help prevent the next one, this book is essential. -- David Clohessy, National Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) Holding Bishops Accountable is a systematic and convincing examination of the conditions under which tort litigation can work to produce socially desirable consequences. Lytton demonstrates that litigation led to certain kinds of media coverage that framed the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in terms of 'institutional failure,' helped place child sexual abuse on public and institutional agendas, and resulted in the disclosure of crucial information that might not otherwise have been revealed. -- Austin Sarat, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College Timothy Lytton makes a persuasive, even compelling, argument that tort litigation set the agenda for policymakers dealing with sexual abuse of minors in the American Catholic Church. His learned interdisciplinary approach blends institutional analysis with acute observation of how the victims' counsel used the media to make the issue salient to the public and the discovery process to keep the issue interesting to the media. His book should be read, indeed studied carefully, by anyone who wants to understand the crisis as a whole. -- Michael R. Merz, Chair, National Review Board of the Catholic Bishops Conference


  • Nominated for Herbert Jacob Book Prize 2009

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