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Protection of Children and Young People: Catholic and Constitutional Visions of Responsible Freedom

NCJ Number
Boston College Law Review Volume: 44 Issue: 4/5 Dated: July/September 2003 Pages: 1031-1059
Angela C. Carmella
Date Published
July 2003
29 pages
This article explores issues of religious autonomy, religious freedom, and “responsible freedom” concerning child abuse allegations within the Catholic Church.
The credibility of the Catholic Church has been undermined with allegations of child sexual abuse for the past two decades, but the magnitude of the problem only came to light in 2002 with the court-ordered release of internal church documents and the voluntary disclosure of information by dioceses throughout the country. As such, there has been a growing consensus that the Catholic Church has failed to protect children from abusive priests and even went so far as to cover up allegations of abuse brought by child victims. States have begun to fill this void in accountability by imposing external accountability previously considered taboo by the religious clauses of the U.S. Constitution which guarantee a separation of church and state. The author argues that the state’s role in protecting children from abuse necessarily entails limits on the church’s autonomy through the imposition of tort liability. Further, unchecked child abuse within the church has necessitated a church-state cooperation, usually in the form a contractual agreement, toward the common goal of protecting children. Despite these much-needed agreements, the article maintains that both constitutional and conciliar versions of responsible religious freedom provide sufficient room for the church’s own internal reforms. As such, the author contends that the church must not grow dependant on the state as it pursues self-correction. A fine line must be drawn by the church between demanding total control over its own internal decisionmaking and relinquishing internal decisionmaking to the state. Footnotes