"Gender, Sex, and Power: Towards a History of Clergy Sex Abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church"

Call for Applications

On March 4, 2019, University of Notre Dame’s President John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., announced a three-year university initiative to fund research related to the sexual abuse crisis in the U.S. Catholic Church. In December 2019, the President’s Office awarded the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism a substantial grant under this program. The Cushwa Center intends to form a working group devoted both to furthering research on the crisis and its causes from various disciplinary perspectives, primarily historical and ethnographic, and to asking how this research illuminates new pathways into understanding modern Catholicism. Through its sponsorship of localized studies of the clergy sex-abuse crisis, the Cushwa Center seeks to reexamine what it has meant to be Catholic in the modern world.

We are inviting interested scholars to join us both in seeking answers and in developing new questions. In asking “What do we talk about when we talk about the church sexual abuse crisis?,” members of our working group will not simply undertake their own individual research projects—though it is expected that they will do so—but also explore the broader implications of their findings. The question we will explore collectively is how the landscape of modern Catholicism is altered by viewing it through the lens of the still-unfolding sexual abuse crisis. How must fundamental questions about Catholic history—about the formation of young people, for example, about the structures of parish life, about the church’s relations with civil authorities in different places and times, about power dynamics (between men and women, hierarchy and clergy, and clergy and laity), or about various internal efforts at church reform—be reformulated in light of these revelations? What does the crisis disclose about the varieties of modern Catholic sexuality? Through the Cushwa Center’s partnership with BishopAccountability.org, members of the working group will have unprecedented access to multiple archives (for more information about these archives, contact project leaders at one of the email addresses listed below). The working group is committed to including as many voices as possible—including the voices of survivors of clergy sexual abuse—at all stages of the project. Members will be expected to produce studies that are richly documented, properly contextualized, and attentive to historical nuance.

The Cushwa Center will award each researcher a stipend of $5,000 and in addition cover all travel and accommodations related to working group meetings. Participants will be required to:

  1. Attend an opening two-day seminar at the University of Notre Dame from June 15-17, 2020. Prior to arrival, participants will be asked to do a deep dive into a common and substantial set of documents on a single priest in one diocese furnished by BishopAccountability.org from publicly available diocesan archives. There will also be some select secondary readings. This will serve as the basis for a seminar discussion on research methods, issues, and challenges. We will also use these documents and readings to open the conversation about the implications of the crisis for conceptualizing modern Catholicism. The seminar will help participants to consider the problematics (unforeseen challenges, codes requiring deciphering) revealed by the documents (e.g., seminary connections, truth-telling in therapeutic languages, institutional logics). 
  2. Share a research proposal that includes plans for publication with the working group no later than August 2020.
  3. Discuss progress during a Zoom meeting in October 2020.
  4. Circulate and discuss drafts at working group meeting and attend a public lecture by Robert Orsi at the University of Notre Dame in spring 2021.
  5. Present research at a symposium held at the University of Notre Dame in fall 2021.

Project leaders will include:

  • Professor Kathleen Sprows Cummings, the Rev. John A. O’Brien Collegiate Professor of History and American Studies (kcumming@nd.edu)
  • Professor Robert Orsi, the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies at Northwestern University and a 2020-2021 Faculty Fellow in residence at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study (r-orsi@northwestern.edu)
  • Dr. Peter Cajka, Cushwa Center faculty affiliate and research program director (pcajka@nd.edu)
  • Terence McKiernan, President of BishopAccountability.org (mckiernan1@comcast.net)

Please submit a CV and a cover letter by March 15, 2020, using the form linked here. The cover letter should describe a topic of interest (projects at various stages, from early conceptualization through near-completion, will be considered) and explain how previous research has prepared the applicant for: [1] participation in the seminar and symposium and [2] eventual completion and submission of a scholarly article or book. Applicants will receive decision letters in early April, at which time preliminary consultations with project leaders will be scheduled and common reading list distributed.

Access the Application Form Here