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Beyond Betrayal

The Priest Sex Abuse Crisis, the Voice of the Faithful, and the Process of Collective Identity

Beyond Betrayal

The Priest Sex Abuse Crisis, the Voice of the Faithful, and the Process of Collective Identity

In 2002, the national spotlight fell on Boston’s archdiocese, where decades of rampant sexual misconduct from priests—and the church’s systematic cover-ups—were exposed by reporters from the Boston Globe. The sordid and tragic stories of abuse and secrecy led many to leave the church outright and others to rekindle their faith and deny any suggestions of institutional wrongdoing. But a number of Catholics vowed to find a middle ground between these two extremes: keeping their faith while simultaneously working to change the church for the better.

Beyond Betrayal charts a nationwide identity shift through the story of one chapter of Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), an organization founded in the scandal’s aftermath. VOTF had three goals: helping survivors of abuse; supporting priests who were either innocent or took risky public stands against the wrongdoers; and pursuing a broad set of structural changes in the church. Patricia Ewick and Marc W. Steinberg follow two years in the life of one of the longest-lived and most active chapters of VOTF, whose thwarted early efforts at ecclesiastical reform led them to realize that before they could change the Catholic Church, they had to change themselves. The shaping of their collective identity is at the heart of Beyond Betrayal, an ethnographic portrait of how one group reimagined their place within an institutional order and forged new ideas of faith in the wake of widespread distrust.


“[An] engaging and well-written book.”

American Journal of Sociology

“It’s not that often that you emerge from reading an academic book feeling personally moved, intellectually challenged, politically excited, yet also wary and a little sad. Beyond Betrayal is a tight, well-argued book that packs a theoretical wallop alongside vivid case material from an intensive, multiyear study of a local organization engaging an issue of urgent social concern. Ewick and Steinberg challenge us to rethink our understanding of collective identity formation within social movements, while providing us with an intimate close-hand look at the reflexivity and cultural work involved in responding to betrayal and moral shock. In short, this is a moving, provocative, and important book.”

Ann Mische, University of Notre Dame

Beyond Betrayal is richly interesting, theoretically sophisticated, and beautifully written. Ewick and Steinberg tell a fascinating story of a group of movement stalwarts: Catholics who, in the wake of priest sexual abuse revelations and determined to act on their feelings of betrayal, spent the next fifteen years developing a far-reaching vision of what the Catholic Church might become and, above all, defining—and redefining—who they were. The book is chock-full of theoretical aperçus, insights that are thoroughly grounded in the case at hand rather than imposed on it. Most of all, I am struck by the authors’ skill in plumbing the nuanced and evolving views of these unlikely activists.”

Francesca Polletta, University of California, Irvine

“Recommended. . . Beyond Betrayal narrates the process of lay Catholics organizing in response to the Church’s sexual abuse crisis, how one organization developed and has evolved over time, and what the role of such organizations is in reform efforts.”


"“The biggest strength of the book is its attentiveness to the mundane and personal in social movement activism: how movements matter to people in them. Showing up to a church basement with like-minded others regularly over the course of fifteen years means something; it changes something. Perhaps not on a grand scale, as may be needed or hoped for, given the crisis of sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church, but on the scale of the individual, both intimate and nestled into broader institutions…Overall, Beyond Betrayal…creates new meanings, new values, and new identities for its readers to consider."

Tricia C. Bruce | Mobilization

"Beyond Betrayal is a masterfully written book that dives deeply into the minds of individual activists to see the ways they make sense not only of their activism, but also their very selves. This book is sure to invite new questions on meaning and the role of narratives in social life. It is a must-read for scholars in the areas of social movements, identity, emotion, small groups, or framing and would be very useful for those who lead small groups trying to foment social change."

Maureen K. Day | Social Forces

Table of Contents

Part One
The Scandal: Rebuilding a Boat at Sea
1 Collective Identity and Narrative Practice

Part Two
2 Narrating Rupture and Continuity
3 Narrating Self and Others: External Relational Axis
4 Narrating Multiplicity: Conflict and Coherence
5 Conclusion
Epilogue: Hearing Again

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