Marci Hamilton, LAPA Fellow; Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University

Challenging the Vatican in Court: The Child Sex-Abuse Cases

Mon, 03/31/2008
4:30 - 6 PM, Kerstetter Room, Marx Hall
Event Category: 

Since the Boston Globe broke the story in 2002 of the Boston Archdiocese's cover up of childhood sexual abuse by clergy, Marci Hamilton has been involved in representing victims of clergy abuse in the courts, the legislators, and the law reviews. The issue literally fell in her lap as her specialty is religious entities that transgress the law. Her seminar today will focus on her work in bringing the Roman Catholic Church's agents to account for the cover up of widespread child abuse. The readings for today represent some of her public advocacy work in this field. The essay, "The Waterloo for the So-Called Church Autonomy Theory: Widespread Clergy Abuse and Institutional Cover-up," describes the relevant legal developments in the domestic context. The district court opinion, John Doe v. Holy See, and the excerpts of the Holy See's federal appellate brief and John Doe's response brief (authored by Prof. Hamilton) represent the efforts to make the Holy See accountable in the international context through the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

Professor Hamilton is further involved in this arena in advocating legislative reform for all childhood sexual abuse survivors, a topic beyond the scope of today's discussion. Her book on this topic will be published in May, Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge Univ. Press 2008).

In this week's LAPA Seminar, Professor Hamilton will discuss her advocacy work. Her commentator will be Catherine Ross, Professor of Law at George Washington University. Catherine Ross will be at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) next year.

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the nation's leading church/state scholars, as well as an expert on federalism and representation. She is the Martin and Kathleen Crane Fellow at LAPA in 2007-2008. Professor Hamilton holds the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, and is the author most recently of God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press 2005, paperback 2007). Her next publication will be How to Deliver Us From Evil: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge, January 2008). She is also a columnist on constitutional issues for, where her column appears every other Thursday. Professor Hamilton is frequently asked to advise Congress and state legislatures on the constitutionality of pending legislation and to consult in cases involving important constitutional issues. She is the First Amendment advisor for victims in many clergy abuse cases involving many religious institutions, including the federal bankruptcies filed by the San Diego, Portland, and Spokane Dioceses. She also represents a number of cities and neighborhoods challenging the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. She was lead counsel for the City of Boerne, Texas, in Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997), before the Supreme Court in its seminal federalism and church/state case holding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act unconstitutional. For more on Marci Hamilton, see her LAPA profile.

Catherine J. Ross is Professor of Law at George Washington University. She focuses her research at the intersection of family law, children’s rights, and constitutional law. A member of the George Washington University Law School faculty since 1996, she has been a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she has also been a Senior Legal Consultant to the Field Center in Children’s Policy Practice and Research, and Boston College Law School, where she held joint appointments in the School of Education and the History Department. Professor Ross is Chair of the American Association of Law Schools Section on Law and Communitarian Studies. She serves on the editorial board of the Family Courts Review, and has served on the editorial board of the Family Law Quarterly. An elected fellow of the American Bar Foundation, she currently chairs the committee on the rights of children of the ABA Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities. From 1994 to 1998 she served as Chair or Co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Steering Committee on the Unmet Legal Needs of Children, and in 1993 she served as Vice Chair of its predecessor working group and was principal author of its landmark report, "America’s Children at Risk: An Agenda for Legal Action." She has served on the committee that oversees the ABA’s law school accreditation process, as well as the ABA Coalition for Justice, and numerous other ABA committees. Professor Ross earned her B.A., Ph.D. in History, and J.D. at Yale Law School. She was a post-doctoral fellow at the Yale Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy, and an assistant professor at the Child Study Center of the Yale School of Medicine before attending law school. Professor Ross was a litigator at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York City before becoming a law professor. Professor Ross teaches courses on children, family and state, family law, and constitutional law. She has written and lectured widely on legal issues concerning children and families. Fore more on Catherine J. Ross, see her profile at George Washington University