TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cupp on Lytton on Clergy Abuse Suits

Rick Cupp (Pepperdine) has posted to SSRN Seeking Redemption for Torts Law--A Review of "Holding Bishops Accountable:  How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sexual Abuse" by Timothy D. Lytton (Harvard University Press 2008).  The abstract provides:

In Holding Bishops Accountable, Professor Timothy Lytton presents the Catholic Church child molestation lawsuits as an example to encourage a more careful look at torts litigation’s potential policymaking benefits. In this forthcoming book review (draft available for download), Professor Cupp praises Professor Lytton’s thesis and his impressive scholarship. However, the review raises as an open question whether the clergy abuse cases provide an illustration that is too exceptional to substantially enhance openness to the idea of torts litigation as a policy tool.

Church leaders abusing vulnerable children creates a deeply compelling “morality play,” and a plaintiff’s attorney’s perfect plotline. Finding a more sympathetic plaintiff than a defenseless child or a more deplorable defendant than a corrupt clergyman abusing innocents is not easy. The review acknowledges that in the information age a strong symbiotic relationship exists between news and torts lawsuits that should not be underestimated in assessing torts law’s impact on policymaking. With a scenario as shocking as priests molesting children, the media justifiably flock to cover the scandalous story, the extensive coverage shapes public perceptions, and significant policy change predictably follows.

The review recognizes that under the right circumstances, torts law might play a role as a policymaking tool, but it cautions that the particularly powerful illustration of clergy abuse litigation is just that – particularly powerful – and that torts law’s potential for influencing policy is more limited in most litigation scenarios.


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