Child sexual abuse in the catholic church: Revisiting the rotten apples explanation

Michael D. White, Karen J. Terry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The Catholic Church response to its sexual abuse crisis and how the problem should be addressed parallels the "rotten apple" assertions of police deviance. The rotten apple theory, however, does not fully explain police deviance, as there are often also structural explanations. This article employs Kappeler, Sluder, and Alpert's (1998) police deviance framework to characterize and understand the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, drawing specific comparisons to the intentional use of excessive force by police. Though the analogy has limitations, there are similarities at both the individual and organizational levels, particularly because the Church has implemented accountability mechanisms similar to the police. The article concludes with a discussion of lessons the Church can learn from the police organization as they seek to prevent, control, and effectively respond to sexual abuse of children by their clergy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)658-678
Number of pages21
JournalCriminal Justice and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Catholic Church
  • Police misconduct
  • Sexual abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Psychology(all)
  • Law


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