The Waterloo for the So-Called Church Autonomy Theory: Widespread Clergy Abuse and Institutional Cover-Up

21 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2010

Date Written: October 17, 2007

Abstract

The catastrophe of childhood sexual abuse by clergy in the United States was caused by multiple social forces that came together to put children at risk. The phenomenon is nondenominational, with cases involving the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and many others. This reality is just one of the ways religious entities can cause harm to others, as I document in God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law. It is also one part of this culture's profound problem with child abuse; on average, 25% of girls are sexually abused at some point, and 20% of boys. Of those abused, 60% of boys and 80% of girls are abused by someone known to the child or the child's family, with the perpetrators in this category including relatives, family friends, clergy, teachers, and health care professionals. The problem is deeply embedded in the culture, and to a large extent unreported: victims of childhood sexual abuse tend not to come forward to authorities or others approximately 90% of the time. As the churches will say in their defense, these numbers make it clear that child abuse is not peculiar to religious institutions. They are correct, but what does distinguish the religious institutions is a pattern of covering up child abuse.

Keywords: First Amendment, free exercise, child abuse, sex abuse, ministerial exception, church autonomy theory, cover-up, clergy, religious institution, Constitutional rights, strict scrutiny, generally applicable, neutral law, burden

Suggested Citation

Hamilton, Marci A., The Waterloo for the So-Called Church Autonomy Theory: Widespread Clergy Abuse and Institutional Cover-Up (October 17, 2007). Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 29, No. 225, 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1693624

Marci A. Hamilton (Contact Author)

Cardozo Law School ( email )

55 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10003
United States
212-790-0215 (Phone)
212-790-0205 (Fax)

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