What will it take for police reform to work? The church’s abuse scandal offers some lessons.


September 4, 2020

By Kathleen McChesney

The nation was shocked this past spring by the video of a police officer in Minneapolis killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for several minutes. This accumulation of similar incidents of police misconduct have prompted calls for criminal justice reform and even “defunding” the police.

Shortly after the Floyd case, America’s John W. Miller identified “Six lessons for police reform from the Catholic Church.” Mr. Miller asked, “Is there anything to be gained by looking at the Catholic Church and how it has tried to better train and manage its priesthood, if not always successfully?”

The answer is a yes, but with some qualifications. The church has had some notable success in reducing the incidence of clerical misconduct. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reports that the number of new allegations of sexual abuse against minors and vulnerable adults has dropped significantly since the 1970s. Much of this reduction can be attributed to the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Developed and approved by the members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 at the height of the sexual abuse crisis, the “Dallas Charter” provides bishops and religious superiors with guidelines to prevent abuse, to respond to persons who have reported acts of abuse and to establish methods of accountability and transparency.

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