Seeking Redemption for Torts Law – A Review of ‘Holding Bishops Accountable: How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sexual Abuse’ by Timothy D. Lytton (Harvard University Press 2008)

10 Pages Posted: 28 May 2011  

Richard L. Cupp Jr.

Pepperdine University School of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2011

Abstract

In Holding Bishops Accountable, Professor Timothy Lytton presents the Catholic Church child molestation lawsuits as an example to encourage a more careful look at torts litigation’s potential policymaking benefits. In this forthcoming book review (draft available for download), Professor Cupp praises Professor Lytton’s thesis and his impressive scholarship. However, the review raises as an open question whether the clergy abuse cases provide an illustration that is too exceptional to substantially enhance openness to the idea of torts litigation as a policy tool.

Church leaders abusing vulnerable children creates a deeply compelling “morality play,” and a plaintiff’s attorney’s perfect plotline. Finding a more sympathetic plaintiff than a defenseless child or a more deplorable defendant than a corrupt clergyman abusing innocents is not easy. The review acknowledges that in the information age a strong symbiotic relationship exists between news and torts lawsuits that should not be underestimated in assessing torts law’s impact on policymaking. With a scenario as shocking as priests molesting children, the media justifiably flock to cover the scandalous story, the extensive coverage shapes public perceptions, and significant policy change predictably follows.

The review recognizes that under the right circumstances, torts law might play a role as a policymaking tool, but it cautions that the particularly powerful illustration of clergy abuse litigation is just that – particularly powerful – and that torts law’s potential for influencing policy is more limited in most litigation scenarios.

Keywords: Book Review, Holding Bishops Accountable, Timothy Lytton, Catholic Church, Child Molestation Lawsuits, Torts, Clergy, Church

JEL Classification: K13, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Cupp, Richard L., Seeking Redemption for Torts Law – A Review of ‘Holding Bishops Accountable: How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sexual Abuse’ by Timothy D. Lytton (Harvard University Press 2008) (May 1, 2011). Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 27, 2011; Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2011/16. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1852852

R.L. Cupp Jr. (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States
(310) 506-4658 (Phone)

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