Judging the Church: Legal Systems and Accountability for Clerical Sexual Abuse of Children


Event details


Date & time

Tuesday 19 February 2019


Seminar Room 1.04, Coombs Extension Building #8, ANU
ANU Canberra


Meredith Edelman


School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet)

This thesis considers what can be learned from different legal systems’ approaches to holding two Catholic dioceses accountable for child sexual abuse. Following a New Legal Realist approach, it provides an account of four legal systems and the social orders in which they operate that draws on both internal and external perspectives of the systems.

It shows how different aspects of legal systems advantage or disadvantage stakeholders pursuing their interests. It demonstrates how Catholic canon law and tort law in Australia and the United States fail to account for the realities of the relationships between Church organizations and natural persons, how these systems embed the interests of powerful institutions, like Church organizations in multiple aspects of law.

Using Nonet and Selznick’s typologies of repressive, autonomous, and responsive law, the thesis explains how the overall character is determined by multiple aspects of these legal systems. It explains why reform efforts that focus on changing doctrine alone do not bring the kinds of results that most reformers seek. The thesis then provides accounts of two other legal systems which could each be described as quasi-responsive.

The account of a Catholic diocese in chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States demonstrates how a sophisticated jurisprudence of organizations, their social realities and relationships with natural persons, can facilitate broad agreement on a settlement between victims and Church organizations, despite deferring factual disputes to the judgment of a trustee.

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse demonstrates how an approach that reflects an informed and sophisticated understanding of and concern for victims and their interests can provide vindication on substantive issues, even without the authority to directly impose consequences.

The thesis argues that by embedding knowledge of social realities in multiple aspects of law, these systems demonstrate how a purposive approach, relying on procedural flexibility and the deliberate inclusion of a range of stakeholders in legal processes, can produce responsive law.

Furthermore, by comparing two quasi-responsive systems with a repressive system and an autonomous system across two sites, it demonstrates how sophisticated understandings of social realities embedded in legal systems enable responsive procedures to provide substantive justice.

About the speaker

Meredith Edelman is a lecturer in the Department Business Law and Taxation at Monash University School of Business and Economics.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet