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Using Critical Discourse Analysis to Examine Cultures of Denial in the Roman Catholic Church

By: Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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The study of institutional responses to child sexual abuse within Christian churches is a phenomenon difficult to study as churches are closed institutions—defensive amidst the present societal attention toward clerical abuse. Drawing from my experiences in a Criminology Honors program, this case study illustrates how Critical Discourse Analysis can be used to undertake research where access to participants/data is difficult due to being labeled as “high risk” or otherwise “sensitive” research. My honors research sought to test the presence of a causal connexion between certain components of Roman Catholicism (clerical exemption from mandatory reporting; the confessional seal) and church secrecy toward clergy-child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Critical Discourse Analysis was employed to analyze 28 documents from a governmental sexual abuse inquiry in Victoria, Australia. The analysis incorporated the frameworks of nation-state denial theory and techniques of neutralization to uncover patterns of secrecy and denial in the Church’s approaches, proposed and actual, to clergy-child sexual abuse as reported to the inquiry. This case study recounts my experiences of learning and “doing” Critical Discourse Analysis for the first time and overcoming self-doubt, as well as commends the use of the method in sociological research.

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Critical discourse analysis

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