Notre Dame faculty advance research related to the Church sexual abuse crisis

Author: Joanne Fahey

In March 2019, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., announced that the University would provide funding to support research projects that address issues emerging from the Church sexual abuse crisis.

Since that announcement, 10 grants have been administered through the Church Sexual Abuse Crisis Research Grant Program to researchers in the College of Arts and Letters, the Institute for Educational Initiatives, the Keough School of Global Affairs, the Law School, and the Mendoza College of Business.

The following summary provides updates on each grant awarded, including actions taken, thus far, and any next steps planned.

Regular Grants

  • David Clairmont, associate professor of theology, for a research project on “Religion, Ethics, and Power: Charting a Catholic Interdisciplinary Response to the Abuse Crisis through Theology, Psychology, and Law.” Since the grant was awarded, Clairmont, with Kimberly Belcher, associate professor of theology, convened a public conference in March 2022 entitled “Accountability, Healing, and Trust: Conversations in Theology, Psychology, and Law for the Life of the Church.” This conference will now be followed by three directed consultations: one on campus for students and others in our campus community who are abuse survivors; the second with dioceses (beginning with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend) to design a program to help victim assistance coordinators with outreach efforts to offer parishes better resources for addressing the effects of the abuse crisis on their members; and the third to focus on an ecumenical workshop to initiate conversations that is hoped will lead to a second phase of the research.
  • Kathleen Sprows Cummings, Rev. John A. O'Brien College Professor of History and William W. and Anna Jean Cushwa Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, for a project entitled “Gender, Sex, and Power: Towards a History of Clergy Sex Abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church.” Cummings co-directed the project with Robert Orsi of Northwestern University, who spent 2020–2021 as a Fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study. The project funded a working group of 16 scholars, plus an undergraduate assistant, who each pursued individual research projects and convened via Zoom a dozen times in the 2020-2021 academic year (AY) and four times in AY 21-22. The project ended with an in-person, public symposium at Notre Dame in March 2022. Videos of most of the presentations are available and publications are now forthcoming.
  • Richard Garnett, Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Law and Director of the Program on Church, State, and Society, for a project titled the “Consequences of the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Related Legal Issues and Policy Changes.” Unfortunately, the project was not able to proceed and all grant funds were returned.
  • Daniel Hungerman, professor of economics, for research on the “Abuse Crisis and Social Well-being: An Investigation of “Deaths of Despair.” A paper has been submitted for peer review.
  • Katy Lichon, director of Catholic School Advantage and English as a New Language in the Institute for Educational Intiatives (IEI), and Monica Kowalski, associate director for program evaluation and research for the IEI, for a project entitled “The Impact of the Church Sexual Abuse Crisis on Parish Life and Catholic Education: Pastor Responses and Recommendations for Practice.” The team sent surveys to schools and focus groups and data is being coded currently with future publications planned.
  • Daniel Philpott, professor of political science, for research entitled, “The Truth Will Make You Free: Do National Truth Commissions Hold Promise for the Catholic Church’s Response to the Sexual Abuse Crisis?” A public lecture with a keynote featuring Helen Alvaré, the Levy Chair at Scalia Law, George Mason University was followed by a closed-door consultation with a wide range of experts in September 2021. A future consultation with bishops and other stakeholders is planned for Fall 2022 at the University of St. Thomas.
  • Clemens Sedmak, professor of social ethics and director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, for research on “Exploring Social Norms and Catholic Social Tradition: Theology and Economics in Dialogue.” Thus far, three virtual workshops have been hosted and written contributions from colleagues for an edited volume are being collected. Additionally, a policy paper is in draft, as is teaching material for a course on “The Social Theology of the Child,” and a Fall 2022 workshop on next steps is planned. 
  • Kristin Valentino, director of the William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families and William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families Professor of Psychology, for a project entitled “Evaluating the Efficacy of Child Abuse Prevention Programs in Catholic Elementary Schools.” A survey covering over 80 different dioceses and nearly 300 Catholic elementary school principals was successfully conducted. Activities for Fall 2022 will involve formal evaluation of the efficacy of different Safe Environment Training curricula by assessing growth in student knowledge before and after the program is delivered to students.

Initiation Grants

  • Mark Dorries, professor of the practice in conducting and artistic director of the Notre Dame Children's Choir, for work on “Passion of the Innocents: Engaging the Church Sexual Abuse Crisis Through a New Musical Setting of the Passion.” The commissioned libretto was completed by Tristan Cooley. New work that extends many of the themes from the original proposal were a part of J.J. Wright’s premiere of The Passion (March 2022) with the Notre Dame Folk Choir.
  • Amanda McKendree, associate teaching professor of management and Arthur F. and Mary J. O'Neil Director of The Eugene D. Fanning Center for Business Communication, for research entitled “Responsiveness, Reconciliation, and Renewal: Crisis Leadership and Clergy Sexual Abuse.” The pilot study, which focused on developing a research-based resource guide and communication training module, revealed that reflection, discussion, crisis simulations, and media training are the most important activities when preparing future crisis response leaders within the Church.

Sponsored by the President’s Office and administered by Notre Dame Research, the Church Sexual Abuse Crisis Research (CSAC) Grant Program offered Initiation and Research grants to fund research that addressed issues emerging from the Church sexual abuse crisis, as follows:

  • The CSAC Initiation Grant was intended to support early-stage research initiatives that could lead to longer-term, more comprehensive projects. Awards for the Initiation Grant were funded up to $10,000.
  • The CSAC Research Grant was intended to fund projects that were comprehensive in scope, budget, and impact, with the Research Grant funding projects up to $50,000.

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Originally published by Joanne Fahey at on June 01, 2022.