Apportioning Legal Responsibility:

Sexual Abuse Litigation against the Society of Jesus

Project Description

Revelations concerning sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by Roman Catholic clergy and religious have played out distinctively in the U.S. legal system. In both civil and criminal contexts, Catholic teaching and practice intersect with secular legal doctrines in complex and surprising ways. But clergy abuse litigation, and scholarly commentary on it, has tended disproportionately to focus on dioceses and allegations of abuse by the ordained and lay ministers they employ, rather than on religious orders and allegations against them and their members. This project takes the Society of Jesus as a case study, examining records of sexual abuse litigation against members, provinces, and other corporate units of the Society of Jesus. The goal of the project is to ascertain, first, how proceedings concerning clergy sexual abuse are different when allegations concern religious orders rather than dioceses, and then, second, how both in legal and moral terms liability associated with abuse should be apportioned between religious orders and the institutions they sponsor.


Principal Investigator

Patrick HornbeckPatrick Hornbeck is chair and professor of theology at Fordham University, where he is also a rising J.D. student in the Law School. Trained at Oxford as an historian of religion, Hornbeck’s current work sits at the intersection of law and religion in the contemporary U.S. He has written for academic and popular publications about issues including religious freedom and antidiscrimination law, clergy sexual misconduct and tort law, and the finances and taxation of religious organizations and clergy. A former Vatican analyst for the Al Jazeera America television network and an occasional columnist for Religion Dispatches, Hornbeck has appeared on WNYC, CBS This Morning, and Good Morning America and has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, and other national and international publications. He is the author or editor of eight scholarly books. Hornbeck and his husband, Patrick Bergquist, live in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.