Restoring Confidence in the Roman Catholic Church: Corporate Governance Analogies

60 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2018 Last revised: 6 Mar 2019

See all articles by Stephen M. Bainbridge

Stephen M. Bainbridge

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law


Events of the Summer 2018 brought the long running sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church back onto the front pages, highlighting the role of diocesan bishops in covering up the scandal and enabling abusers. In response to these developments, the Church is again considering reforms to protect victims and punish abusers and enablers. This article proposes that the Church create a system for laity to anonymously report allegations, enact strong protections for whistleblowers, and impose a mandatory whistleblowing requirement on priests. As a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report demonstrates, however, the laity was reporting the abuse to the Church but the hierarchy buried those reports in secret files. The ultimate problem thus is not so much the lack of reporting, as it was the lack of action after the report. Accordingly, the article’s principal proposal is the creation of both diocesan and national disciplinary bodies led by expert lay members as the ultimate authorities in sex abuse cases. The proposal draws an analogy between these bodies and corporate audit committees and argues that a number of aspects of how audit committees function can be usefully adapted to the proposed review bodies.

This version of the article has been revised to take into account developments at the February 2019 Vatican summit on the sex abuse scandal. Those developments do not change the recommendations made herein.

Keywords: Roman Catholic Church, corporate governance, compliance, law and economics, credence good

Suggested Citation

Bainbridge, Stephen Mark, Restoring Confidence in the Roman Catholic Church: Corporate Governance Analogies. UCLA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 18-32, Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Mark Bainbridge (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

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