Book Reviews

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Before DallasBefore Dallas

By Nicholas P. Cafardi (Paulist Press, 2008)
Anyone who has been confounded by the church's mishandling of the child sex abuse crisis will benefit from Nicholas Cafardi's detailed account of the church's response prior to the 2002 approval in Dallas of the U.S. bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

As Cafardi, both a civil and canon lawyer, points out, concern about sexual abuse was not born of the 20th century. Collections of canon law have long had provisions on how to handle such offenses by clerics. Why these were not followed, and why other roads were taken instead, serve as the core of the book.

Cafardi, one of the original members of the National Review Board set up by the bishops to deal with the sex abuse crisis, minces no words in describing the errors made by the bishops. At the same time he offers a balanced critique, noting the excellent policies enacted in 1992 by the Archdiocese of Chicago under the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

Cafardi analyzes the two most basic issues of the crisis: the failure of the canonical penal system and the preference for the "treatment option" for abusers. The section on canon law is difficult at first, but Cafardi does a good job of making it clear. Cafardi goes on to explain why the "treatment option" seemed like a good idea to bishops and providers, and how it worked to their mutual benefit. Finally Cafardi points out the difficulty U.S. bishops had with Roman authorities in the implementation of effective policies.

Before Dallas echoes the frustrations expressed by many Catholics since the beginning of this crisis. Parents want their children to trust priests. When evidence of sexual abuse comes to light, they want other children to be protected. Often they were assured that the abusing priest would be kept from hurting others. But, as Cafardi demonstrates, all too often that promise was not kept. In fact the concern was at times greater for the abusers than for the victims.-Karen Dix