The Politics of Sex Abuse in Hierarchies: A Comparative Study of the Catholic Church and the United States Military

29 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2014

See all articles by Carolyn Warner

Carolyn Warner

Arizona State University (ASU)

Date Written: 2014


This is an exploratory comparative paper about sex abuse in two male dominated hierarchies, the Catholic Church and the U.S military. The paper aims to see if there are similarities in patterns of abuse and in patterns of how the known abuse cases are handled by the Catholic Church and the U.S. military, and to develop preliminary explanations of why. The paper considers how the two organizations deal with external efforts by civil authorities at oversight and prosecution, and the extent to which they invoke their moral authority to evade responsibility and civilian oversight. I extrapolate from theories of bureaucratic politics, of religion and politics, and of military structure and relations with the civilian state, to develop hypotheses accounting for why cases have happened as they have and why the institutions have dealt with them in ways that seem to have perpetuated the climate and conditions for abuse. The paper compares the Church’s and the U.S. military’s stance towards the oversight efforts of civil authorities. It attempts to assess whether the tolerance of sex abuse in each organizations has been partly due to these institutions seeing themselves as something apart from the secular state, beholden to alternative authorities. To assess the role of hierarchical structure in (mis)handling of abuse cases, the paper compares the entities’ structures and tracks management of several cases. The comparison will allow for some discussion of what difference, if any, religion (being a religious organization) makes in the pattern of abuse and how the abuse has been handled in the Church, as opposed to the formally secular U.S. military. Later work will include comparison with non-hierarchical organizations. The study utilizes extensive documentation of Church pedophile cases in the US and documentation of sex abuse cases in the US military, including documentation from Congressional hearings.

Suggested Citation

Warner, Carolyn, The Politics of Sex Abuse in Hierarchies: A Comparative Study of the Catholic Church and the United States Military (2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Carolyn Warner (Contact Author)

Arizona State University (ASU) ( email )

Farmer Building 440G PO Box 872011
Tempe, AZ 85287
United States

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