There is a critical need to understand how historical CSA reporting requirements differs across child protection policies in the Church and civil statutes. Greater insight into this policy dimension can inform church and state policies that lead to improved mandated reporting laws. This study is the first of its kind that examined how historical CSA (1) in various Catholic archdioceses child protection policies and (2) across Catholic archdioceses and civil statutes.
Methods: Comparative content analysis was employed to conduct a policy analysis using publicly available Catholic child protection policies and state civil statutes. The sample in this analysis included archdioceses’ child protection policies (“policies”) and civil statutes along with their differential child protection statutes (“statutes”) from different regions across the United States, which were matched for comparison according to jurisdictional alignment (N=5). A priori policy dimensions were: Child maltreatment including, physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse; historical sexual abuse of a minor; mandated reporters, clergy and laity; reporting process/ requirements: criminal, civil, and church authorities; and priest-penitent privilege. Policies and statutes were analyzed independently to identify similarities and differences based on a priori policy dimensions. Next, a working typology of policies was developed. Finally, comparative content analysis was conducted with matched policies and statutes.
Results: Three archdioceses were categorized as conclusive-misaligned, one archdiocese was categorized as ambiguous-aligned, and one archdiocese was categorized as ambiguous-misaligned for the historical sexual abuse of a minor dimension. No archdioceses were categorized as conclusive-aligned. In contrast to civil mandated reporting statutes that require reporting of suspected current abuse or neglect of a child (a person who is currently under the age of 18 years), the present study found that archdioceses’ policies required reporting to civil authorities even in cases where the victim is now an adult (a person who is currently over the age of 18 years) and the sexual abuse is reported to have occurred when the victim was a minor.
Conclusions and Implications: Archdiocesan policies exceeded civil statutes by requiring sexual abuse, regardless of when the abuse occurred, to be reported to civil/criminal authorities. Civil statutes should minimally address historical CSA, which would help facilitate prosecution of offenders and other appropriate child welfare interventions. A national, overarching framework could strengthen civil statutes across states to address this important gap.