Bad Apples, Bad Barrel: Exploring Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy in Australia

  • Queensland University of Technology, School of Justice


This paper considers constructions of institutional culture and power in the cover-up of child sexual abuse (CSA) by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church of Australia. The issue of cover-up has previously been considered in international inquiries as an institutional failing that has caused significant harm to victims of CSA by Catholic Clergy. Evidence given by select representatives of the Catholic Church in two government inquiries into institutional abuse carried out in Australia is considered here. This evidence suggests that, where cover-up has occurred, it has been reliant on the abuse of institutional power and resulted in direct emotional, psychological and spiritual harm to victims of abuse. Despite international recognition of cover-up as institutional abuse, evidence presented by Roman Catholic Representatives to the Victorian Inquiry denied there was an institutionalised cover-up. Responding to this evidence, this paper queries whether the primary foundation of cover-up conforms to the ‘bad apple theory’ in that it relates only to a few individuals, or the ‘bad barrel theory’ of institutional structure and culture.

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Published: 2015-07-01
Pages:94 to 110
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How to Cite
Death, J. (2015) “Bad Apples, Bad Barrel: Exploring Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy in Australia”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 4(2), pp. 94-110. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.v4i2.229.

Author Biography

Queensland University of Technology, School of Justice

Prior to commencing with QUT, Jodi worked for the Department of Community Services NSW (DoCS), as a child protection caseworker. Jodi has also previously worked as a sexual assault crisis response counsellor in Central West NSW and has a background in involvement with social welfare development in rural NSW. Jodi’s PhD examined the role of forgiveness in ways that churches are responding to child sexual abuse by church leaders. Jod's ongoing work continues to explore gendered and sexual violence including Church abuse.

Queensland University of Technology

School of Justice, Lecturer