2020 Writing Award Winner – Mr. Jacob Thackston `20

By Mr. Jacob Thackston `20

The Priest-Penitent Privilege in a Post-Scandal World: Federal Inaction and State Abrogation

For the Catholic Church in America, the story of the 21st century thus far has been one of scandal and response. According to a study commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the authoritative organization for the Catholic Church in America, as many as five percent of diocesan priests actively ministering in America between the years 1960 and 1996 were accused of sexual abuse – in all, 4,392 priests were accused. This study came after years of explosive reports concerning abuse within the Catholic Church, perhaps the most famous among them the “Spotlight” reports by the Boston Globe. What followed was a series of settlements, bankruptcies, laicization of priests, and protective measures. The response from the American people was clear: attendance at Mass went down dramatically, with one diocese finding that attendance dropped a full six percent in 2002 alone. The scandal has shaken and continues to shake even Catholics’ faith in their clergy and institutions – a recent Gallup survey found that only 31 percent of Catholics rate their trust in the clergy as “high” or “very high,” while a slightly higher 44 percent of Catholics in the same survey say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the institution of the Catholic Church.

Exerpt from Mr. Thackston’s submission

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