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Catholic sex abuse cases

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In 2002, criminal charges were brought against five Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area of the United States, (John Geoghan, John Hanlon, Paul Shanley, Robert V. Gale and Jesuit priest James Talbot) which ultimately resulted in the conviction and sentencing of each to prison.[1] The ongoing coverage of these cases by the Boston Globe thrust the issue of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests into the national limelight.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] The coverage of these cases encouraged other victims to come forward with their allegations of abuse resulting in more lawsuits and criminal cases.[12] (see Sexual abuse scandal in Boston archdiocese).

As it became clear that there was truth to many of the allegations and that there was a pattern of sexual abuse and cover-up in a number of large dioceses across the USA, what had originally appeared to be a few isolated cases of abuse exploded into a nationwide scandal. The resulting scandal created a crisis for the Catholic Church in the United States, encouraging victims in other nations to come forward with their allegations of abuse, thus creating a global crisis for the Church.

Ultimately, it became clear that, over several decades in the 20th century, priests and lay members of religious orders in the Catholic Church had sexually abused minors on a scale such that the accusations reached into the thousands. Although the majority of cases were reported to have occurred in the United States, victims have come forward in other nations such as Ireland, Canada and Australia. A major aggravating factor was the actions of Catholic bishops to keep these crimes secret and to reassign the accused to other parishes in positions where they had continued unsupervised contact with youth, thus allowing the abusers to continue their crime.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned a comprehensive study that determined that, during the period from 1950-2002, a total of 10,667 individuals had made allegations of child sexual abuse by 4,392 priests. This number represents 4% of the 109,694 priests that served from 1950-2002. Of the 4392 priests who were accused, police were contacted regarding 1021 individuals and of these, 384 were charged resulting in 252 convictions and 100 prison sentences. Thus, 6% of all priests against whom allegations were made were convicted and about 2% received prison sentences to date.[13][14]

Many of the accused priests were forced to resign or were defrocked. In addition, several bishops who had participated in the cover-up were also forced to resign or retire.[15] The dioceses in which the crimes were committed found it necessary to make financial settlements with the victims totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars.[12]



1960s document controversy

In 1962 Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, the Secretary of the Holy Office, issued an instruction dealing with solicitation by priests in the confessional, Crimen sollicitationis (Instruction on the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation). The document dealt with any priest who "tempts a penitent... in the act of sacramental confession... towards impure or obscene matters." It directed that investigation of allegations of solicitation in the confessional and the trials of accused priests be conducted in secrecy.

The 69-page document was discovered in the Vatican's archives,[16] leading to widespread media coverage of its contents.[17][18][19] Lawyers for litigants who had been abused as children claimed that the document demonstrated a systematic conspiracy to conceal the crime.[20][21] The Church responded that the document was not only widely misinterpreted, but had been superseded by more recent guidelines in the 1960s and 1970s, and especially the 1983 Code of Canon Law.[22][23]

Official investigations

John Jay Report


The John Jay Report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was based on surveys completed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. The surveys provided information from diocesan files on each priest accused of sexual abuse and on each of the priest's victims. That information was filtered, so that the research team did not have access to the names of the accused priests or the dioceses where they worked. The report presented aggregate findings. The dioceses were encouraged to issue reports of their own based on the surveys that they had completed. The Report found accusations against 4,392 priests in the USA, about 4% of all priests.[24]

Ferns Report

Template:Main The Ferns Inquiry (2005) was an official Irish government inquiry into the allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the Irish Roman Catholic Diocese of Ferns. The Inquiry recorded its revulsion at the extent, severity and duration of the child sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated on children by priests acting under the aegis of the Diocese of Ferns.[25] The investigation was established in the wake of the broadcast of a BBC Television documentary "Suing the Pope", which highlighted the case of Seán Fortune, one of the most notorious clerical sexual offenders. The film followed Colm O'Gorman as he investigated the story of how Fortune was allowed to abuse him and countless other teenage boys.[26] O'Gorman, through One in Four, the organization he founded to support women and men who have experienced sexual violence, successfully campaigned for the Ferns Inquiry.

One of the best known cases of sex abuse in Ireland involved Brendan Smyth, who, between 1945 and 1989, sexually abused and indecently assaulted twenty[27] children in parishes in Belfast, Dublin and the United States. The investigation of the Smyth case was allegedly obstructed by the Norbertine Order. This was also seen in other cases, such as that of Jim Grennan, a parish priest, who abused children as they prepared for First Communion, and Sean Fortune, who committed suicide before his trial for the rape of children.[28] The abuse by Grennan and others in the Diocese of Ferns in south-east Ireland led to the resignation of the local bishop, Brendan Comiskey.[citation needed]

Irish Child Abuse Commission 2009


A lengthy report detailing cases of emotional, physical and sexual abuse of thousands of children over 70 years was published on 20 May 2009. As per 2002 agreement between the victims on one side and the Catholic brothers and Irish government on other side, all those who accept the state/Brothers settlements, had to waive their right to sue both the church and the government. Their abusers' identities are also kept secret. Ireland's national police force announced that they would study the report to see if it provided any new evidence for prosecuting clerics for assault, rape or other criminal offenses. The report, however, did not identify any abusers by name because of a right-to-privacy lawsuit by the Christian Brothers order. The highest ranked official of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin slammed Irish Catholic orders for concealing their culpability in decades of child abuse, and said they needed to come up with much more money to compensate victims[29].

Shamed by the extent, length, and cruelty of child abuse, Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen apologized to victims for the government's failure to intervene in endemic sexual abuse and severe beatings in schools for much of the 20th century. He also promised to reform the Ireland's social services for children in line with the recommendations of the the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse report [30]. Further motions to start criminal investigation against members of Roman Catholic religious orders in Ireland were made by Irish President Mary McAleese and Prime Minister Cowen [31].


Julio Grassi was found guilty (by a three-judge panel of the Criminal Court Oral 1 Morón) of one count of sexual abuse and one count of corrupting a minor in the “Happy Children’s Foundation”[32] . He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. "Prosecutors said they were considering an appeal on behalf of the two plaintiffs whose sexual abuse accusations were dropped. They complained that the court did not order Grassi's imprisonment while any appeals are pending." [33] Grassi was the third member of the Roman Catholic Church in Argentina to be convicted of sexually abusing minors. [34].

Actions of the Catholic hierarchy

Abusers moved to different locations

The Church was widely criticized when it was discovered that some bishops knew about the crimes committed, but reassigned the accused instead of seeking to have them permanently removed from the priesthood.[12][35] In defense of this practice, some have pointed out that public school administrators engaged in a similar manner when dealing with accused teachers[36], as did the Boy Scouts of America[37].

Some bishops have been heavily criticized for moving offending priests from parish to parish, where they still had personal contact with children, rather than seeking to have them permanently removed from the priesthood. Instead of reporting the incidents to police, many dioceses directed the offending priests to seek psychological treatment and assessment.

In response to these allegations, defenders of the Church's actions have suggested that in re-assigning priests after treatment, bishops were acting on the best medical advice then available, a policy also followed by the US public school system when dealing with accused teachers. Some bishops and psychiatrists have asserted that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling.[35][38] Many of the abusive priests had received counseling before being reassigned.[14][39] Critics have questioned whether bishops are necessarily able to form accurate judgments on a priest's recovery.[citation needed] The priests were allowed to resume their previous duties with children only when the bishop was advised by the treating psychologists or psychiatrists that it was safe for them to resume their duties.[citation needed]

Failure to report alleged criminal acts to police

From a legal perspective, the most serious criticism aside from the incidents of child sexual abuse themselves was by the bishops, who failed to report accusations to the police. In response to the failure to report abuse to the police, lawmakers have changed the law to make reporting of abuse to police compulsory. An example of this can be found in Massachusetts, USA.[40]

Handling of evidence

Reviewers of the Smyth case differ as to whether it was a deliberate plot to conceal his behaviour, incompetence by his superiors at Kilnacrott Abbey, an institution presuming that what happened to its members was its own business, a failure to grasp the human and legal consequences, or some combination of factors. Cardinal Daly, both as Bishop of Down and Connor, a diocese where some of the abuse took place, and later as Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh, is recorded as having been privately scathing at the Norbertine "incompetence".[41]

William McMurry, a Louisville, Kentucky lawyer, filed suit against the Vatican[42] in June 2004 on behalf of three men alleging abuse as far back as 1928, accusing Church leaders of organizing a cover-up of cases of sexual abuse of children. In November, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals in Cincinnati denied the Vatican's claim of sovereign immunity and allowed the case to proceed. The Vatican initially stated that it did not plan to appeal the ruling.

Payments to victims

In the mid-1990s, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Connell of Dublin lent money to a priest, Ivan Payne, who had abused altar boy Andrew Madden; this money was used to pay compensation to Madden and to prevent him from reporting the abuse to the police. Connell later claimed never to have paid money to a victim, insisting that he had simply lent money to a priest who independently used the money to pay off his victim.[43]

Sacramento, California. -- A Jesuit religious order has paid $100,000 to a San Diego man who said a Sacramento priest sexually abused him more than 50 years ago.

Now a minister, Will Green alleged that he was raped repeatedly over four years by Rev. Arthur Falvey, who served at St. Ignatius Church.

A Jesuit spokesman said Falvey died in 1966 and the church was unable to make a finding in the matter. Falvey was the twin brother of Fr. Mark Falvey of Los Angeles who molested many children, and whose actions cost the Jesuits millions of dollars in settlements.[44] [45]

Debate over the causes of the sexual abuse

Seminary training

Clergy themselves have suggested their seminary training offered little to prepare them for a lifetime of celibate sexuality. A report submitted to the Synod of Bishops in Rome in 1971, called The Role of the Church in the Causation, Treatment and Prevention of the Crisis in the Priesthood by Dr. Conrad Baars, a Roman Catholic psychiatrist, and based on a study of 1500 priests, suggested that some clergy had "psychosexual" problems.[citation needed] Though the report suggested that immediate corrective action was needed, making ten recommendations, and one of those most active in the Synod was Cardinal Wojtyła, who on October 16, 1978 was elected Pope John Paul II, no implementation of the report's detailed recommendations followed.[citation needed]

Rome's Congregation for Catholic Education issued an official document, the Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders (2005). The document has attracted criticism based on an interpretation that the document implies that homosexuality leads to pedophilia.[46]

Declining standards explanation

In the book, The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, George Weigel holds that it was the infidelity to orthodox Roman Catholic teaching, the "culture of dissent", which was mainly responsible for this problem. By "culture of dissent" he meant priests, women religious, bishops, theologians, catechists, Church bureaucrats, and activists who "believed that what the Church proposed as true was actually false."[47]

Ultra-conservative Roman Catholics have made the charge that the Second Vatican Council itself (1962–1965) fostered a climate that encouraged priests to abuse children.[citation needed] The council essentially directed an opening of the doors to meet the world. This was considered an appropriate way of going forth and spreading Roman Catholicism. However traditional Roman Catholics believe that this led to a conversion of Roman Catholics to secularism rather than vice versa.[citation needed] In the January 27, 2003 edition of Time magazine, actor and traditional Roman Catholic Mel Gibson charged that "...Vatican II corrupted the institution of the church. Look at the main fruits: dwindling numbers and pedophilia." However, abuse by priests was occurring long before the start of Vatican II and that many of the Roman Catholic sex abuse cases did not, strictly speaking, involve pedophilia. For instance the apostolic constitution Sacramentum Poenitentiae which established general notice of the problem of sexual abuse among the clergy was published by Pope Benedict XIV in 1741.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, blamed the declining morals of the late 20th century as a cause of the high number of sexually abusive priests. [48] However it must be realized that the increased reporting of abuse in child-care institutions during this time was concomitant with rising police interest, investigation and prosecution of such crimes. As such it is not certain that a sudden "crisis of abuse" ever existed, instead the dramatic increase in reported abuse cases may simply have heralded the end of a long-term endemic problem found throughout a number of institutions, both secular and religious, prior to the introduction of quality control measures specifically aimed at preventing such abuses from occurring.[citation needed]

Philip Jenkins claims that the Roman Catholic Church is being unfairly singled out by a secular media which he claims fails to highlight similar sexual accusations in other religious groups, such as the Anglican Communion, Islam and Judaism, and various Protestant churches, communities. Jenkins later authored the book The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice in 2003, touching on some of the same issues.[49] Similar experiences are described in e.g. scouting sex abuse cases and Jehovah's Witnesses and child sex abuse.

Supply and demand explanation

There is a shortage of priests in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.[50][51]

Roman Catholic doctrines and this under-staffing combined, it has been claimed, to make Roman Catholic clergy extraordinarily valuable. It is alleged that the Roman Catholic hierarchy acted to preserve the number of clergy and ensure that they were still available to supply priestly services, in the face of serious allegations that these priests were unfit for duty. [citation needed]

Others disagree and believe that the Church hierarchy's mishandling of the sex abuse cases merely reflected their prevailing attitude at the time towards any illegal or immoral activity by clergy. Hierarchs usually suppressed any information which could cause scandal or loss of trust in the Church. [citation needed]

Cultural explanation

In 2005, a controversy developed over comments about Boston, Massachusetts, that the US Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, made in a 2002 article about the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. Santorum wrote:

It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning "private" moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.[52]

Celibacy explanation

Roman Catholic tradition dictates that normally only unmarried men can be ordained into the Catholic priesthood, a practice known as celibacy (for more details see Clerical celibacy (Catholic Church)). It should be noted that in its original context the word 'celibacy' strictly implies unmarried. However in modern parlance this word has come to be associated with the very specific practice of abstaining from sexual intercourse. According to modern church teachings, clergy are expected to adhere to both these practices. Exceptions are sometimes made to this rule but this is a relatively rare occurrence[53].

Seeking an explanation for the rash of abuse cases uncovered in the Church some authors[54] have suggested a direct causal link between the Catholic requirement for celibacy in ordained clergy and incidences of sexual abuse.

These authors typically claim that sexual desire is a strong, fundamental, almost overwhelming tendency in human behaviour that cannot easily be overcome, apart from a great force of will on the part of the individual priest. Thus, it is argued that the Church's requirement for priests to resist or repress their sexual drive or urge to reproduce, will inevitably lead to deviant sexual behavior, when for a minority of clergy their self-imposed denial of, or resistance to 'normal' human sexual behavior breaks down. The assumption is that for this minority of clergy their innate sexual drive, denied 'conventional' or 'normal' means of expression may find an alternate outlet or form of expression in 'unhealthy' or exploitative sexual behavior such as pedophilia or abuse.

An interesting alternative link between celibacy and abuse was given in 2005 in the Western People, a conservative Irish newspaper. This paper proposes that celibacy itself had contributed to the abuse problem in a different way. There is a suggestion that the institution of celibacy has created a "morally superior" status that is easily misapplied by abusive priests. According to this paper, "The Irish Church’s prospect of a recovery is zero for as long as bishops continue blindly to toe the Vatican line of Pope Benedict XVI that a male celibate priesthood is morally superior to other sections of society."[55]

Sexual scandals among priests, the defenders say, are a breach of the Church's discipline, not a result of it, especially since only a small percentage of priests have been implicated. Furthermore there is no data supporting a higher rate of child-oriented sexual activity among the unmarried Roman Catholic clergy than that of the married clergy of other denominations[56] and of schoolteachers.[57]. One should be cautious however when making such comparisons between professions. Accurate statistical analysis of such behaviors are inevitably difficult to obtain for a number of practical reasons, and consequently few such studies exist. One key reason for this is that sexual abuse is almost inevitably a traumatic event. Consequently not all instances may be reported to the relevant authorities.[citation needed]. Thus there is reason to believe that actual cases of abuse may well be under-reported.

However, for those cases for which data is available, molestation of pre-pubescent children was found to be rare[58]. Consequently opinion remains divided on whether there is any definite link or connection between the Roman Catholic institution of celibacy and incidences of child abuse by Catholic clergy.

Studies comparing sexual abuse among married Protestant and Jewish clergy and celibate Catholic clergy show similar rates.[59]

Advocacy for mandatory celibacy

Philip Jenkins, an Episcopalian and Professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State University, published the book Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis in 1996. In it, he calculated that approximately 0.2 percent of Roman Catholic priests were child molesters.[60] His 2002 article "The myth of the 'pedophile priest'"[61] expresses his views. In contrast to Louise Haggett's statement, Professor Jenkins states:

"My research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination—or indeed, than non-clergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported."

Supporters of celibacy claim that Roman Catholic priests suffering sexual temptations are not likely to turn immediately to a teenage boy simply because Church discipline does not permit clergy to marry. Supporters of clerical celibacy suggest, then, that there is some other factor at work.

Other Roman Catholic teachings, practices

The Catholic Church clearly teaches the sexual abuse of children to be gravely and mortally sinful, and abuse perpetrated by family, clergy, or others in authority also has the added sin of scandal. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church's list of moral offenses, one finds:

"...any sexual abuse perpetrated by adults on children or adolescents entrusted to their care. The offense is compounded by the scandalous harm done to the physical and moral integrity of the young, who will remain scarred by it, all their lives; and the violation of responsibility for their upbringing." (CCC 2389).[62]

In the Bible's New Testament, Jesus tells his disciples, "Whoever brings offense against a little one such as these, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea." (see Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; and Luke 17:2)

Continuing in the Bible's New Testament, Jesus tells his disciples, "Woe to the world because of those that cause these offenses! Such things shall come but woe to the man who does them. If your hand or your foot causes offense, cut it off and remove it from you. It is better to continue life being crippled rather than having two hands and two feet and to be thrown into eternal fire. Even if your eye brings about offense, rip it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with only one eye then to have two eyes and to be thrown into the fire of hell." (see Matthew 18:9)

In the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, priests are permitted to marry. Because priestly celibacy is a discipline, and not an infallible dogma of the Church, the discipline of celibacy within the Latin Rite may be lifted in the future, although that is currently unlikely. In the Latin Rite now, only a dispensation from the Vatican can allow clergy within the Latin Rite to marry, and such occasions are rare.

Abuse by priests in Roman Catholic Orders

As distinct from abuse by some parish priests, under diocesan control, there have also been sexual abuse cases concerning those in Roman Catholic orders, which often care for the sick or teach school.[63]


Roman Catholic leadership resignations

  • Bernard Francis Law, Cardinal and Archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts, United States resigned after Church documents were revealed which suggested he had covered up sexual abuse committed by priests in his archdiocese.[64] For example, John Geoghan was shifted from one parish to another although Cardinal Law had often been informed of his abuse. In December 1984 auxiliary Bishop John M. D’Arcy wrote to Cardinal Law complaining about the reassignment of Geoghan to another Boston-area parish because of his “history of homosexual involvement with young boys."[65] In 1987, after at least 23 years of child molesting by Joseph Birmingham during which time he was shuffled to various parishes, the mother of an altar boy at St. Anns wrote to Law asking if Birmingham had a history of molesting children. Cardinal Law wrote back "I contacted Father Birmingham. ... He assured me there is absolutely no factual basis to your concern regarding your son and him. From my knowledge of Father Birmingham and my relationship with him, I feel he would tell me the truth and I believe he is speaking the truth in this matter." [66] The Vatican announced on December 13, 2002 that Pope John Paul II had accepted Law's resignation as Archbishop and reassigned him to an administrative position in the Roman Curia and named him archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Cardinal Law later presided at one of the Pope's funeral masses. Bishop Séan P. O'Malley, the Capuchin friar who replaced Law as archbishop, was forced to sell a good deal of valuable real estate and to close a number of churches in order to pay $120,000,000 in claims against the archdiocese.

Church actions in dealing with sex abuse scandal

Compensation payouts

According to Donald Cozzens, "by the end of the mid 1990s, it was estimated that ...more than half a billion dollars had been paid in jury awards, settlements and legal fees." This figure grew to about one billion dollars by 2002.[68] Roman Catholics spent $615 million on sex abuse cases in 2007.[69]

  • In December 2006 the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (its archbishop was Roger Cardinal Mahony) agreed to a payout of $60 million to settle 45 of the over 500 pending cases concerning abuse by priests.[71] In July 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay a $660 million settlement to hundreds of people who claimed to have been abused by clergy. [72]
  • On January 3, 2005 Bishop Tod Brown of the Diocese of Orange apologized to 87 alleged victims of sexual abuse and announced a settlement of $100 million following two years of mediation.[76]
  • In December 2006 the Diocese of Phoenix agreed to pay $100,000 to William Cesolini, who claimed he was sexually assaulted as a teenager by a priest.[77]
  • In May 1994 the Diocese of Lincoln (Nebraska) agreed to pay Rob Butler, FKA Adam Butler, $40,000 after he claimed he was abused weekly for two years.
  • In 2007, the Los Angeles Diocese was ordered to pay more than $16 million to nine claimants who were abuse by Father Mark Falvey when they were children. [79]
  • September 7, 2007 SAN DIEGO – The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego reached a $198.1 million agreement with 144 childhood sexual abuse victims Friday morning. In an afternoon news conference, Bishop Robert Brom repeatedly apologized to victims, their families and friends “in the name of the church, to beg their forgiveness.[80]
  • SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A Jesuit religious order has paid $100,000 to a San Diego man who said a Sacramento priest sexually abused him more than 50 years ago.Now a minister, Will Green said he was raped repeatedly over four years by Rev. Arthur Falvey, who served at St. Ignatius Church. A Jesuit spokesman said Falvey died in 1966 and the church was unable to make a finding in the matter. Falvey was the twin brother of Fr. Mark Falvey of Los Angeles who molested many children, and whose actions cost the Jesuits millions of dollars in settlements.[81]


In 2002, the U.S. church adopted a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual abuse.[82][83]

By 2008, the U.S. church had trained 5.8 million children to recognize and report abuse. It had run criminal checks on 1.53 million volunteers and employees, 162,700 educators, 51,000 clerics and 4,955 candidates for ordination. It had trained 1.8 million clergy, employees and volunteers in creating a safe environment for children.[84]


  • Citing monetary concerns arising from impending trials on sex abuse claims, the Archdiocese of Portland (Oregon) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 6, 2004, hours before two abuse trials were set to begin, becoming the first Roman Catholic diocese to file for bankruptcy. If granted, bankruptcy would mean pending and future lawsuits would be settled in federal bankruptcy court. The archdiocese had settled more than one hundred previous claims for a sum of over $53 million. The filing seeks to protect parish assets, school money and trust funds from abuse victims; the archdiocese's contention is that parish assets are not the archdiocese's assets. Plaintiffs in the cases against the archdiocese have argued that the Catholic church is a single entity, and that the Vatican should be liable for any damages awarded in judgment of pending sexual abuse cases.
  • In December, 2004, the Diocese of Spokane, Washington agreed to pay at least 48 million dollars as compensation to those abused by priests as part of its bankruptcy filing. This payout has to be agreed upon by victims and another judge.[85]
  • The Diocese of Tucson filed for bankruptcy in September, 2004. The diocese reached an agreement with its victims, which the bankruptcy judge approved June 11, 2005, specifying terms that included allowing the diocese reorganization to continue in return for a $22.2 million settlement.[86]
  • On February 27, 2007, the Diocese of San Diego filed for Chapter 11 protection, hours before the first of about 150 lawsuits was due to be heard. San Diego became the largest diocese to postpone its legal problems in this way.[89]
  • On March 7, 2008, the Diocese of Fairbanks filed for bankruptcy after 130 civil suits filed by Alaska natives who claim to be abused by priests, and other church employees, beginning in the 1950s.[90]

Response by the Vatican

In Sydney's St. Mary's Cathedral, Pope Benedict XVI made a historic full apology for child sex abuse by priests and clergymen in Australia, on July 19, 2008. Before a 3,400 congregation, he called for compensation and demanded punishment for those guilty of the "evil": "Here I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country. I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering." The Pope added: "Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice. These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. I ask all of you to support and assist your bishops, and to work together with them in combating this evil. It is an urgent priority to promote a safer and more wholesome environment, especially for young people." On the 21st of July before flying out of Australia Pope Benedict met with a group of four victims of sexual abuse. He met them at St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, listened to their stories and celebrated Mass with them.[91]

The Pope met two male and two female victims of sex abuse by priests at St. Mary's Cathedral. Broken Rites criticized the meeting as hand-picked: "I'm afraid that what they've done is selected victims who have agreed with what the Church's policies are. The Pope should have met with Anthony Foster, the father of two girls abused by a priest, who cut short a holiday in Britain to return to Australia in the hope of meeting the pontiff. [92][93][94] The New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma hoped "it will be a sign of righting the wrongs of the past and of a better future and better treatment by the church of the victims and their families."[95] The victims' rights advocacy group Broken Rites welcomed the Pope's apology, but remained disappointed the Pope had not made his apology directly to sexual abuse victims. [96]

Pope John Paul II stated that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young".[97] The Church instituted reforms to prevent future abuse by requiring background checks for Church employees[98] and, because a significant majority of victims were teenage boys, disallowing ordination of men with "deep–seated homosexual tendencies".[38][99] They now require dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty.[98][100] In 2008, the Church asserted that the scandal was a very serious problem but, at the same time, estimated that it was "probably caused by 'no more than 1 per cent' (or 5,000) of the over 500,000 Roman Catholic priests worldwide.[13]

During a recent visit to the United States Pope Benedict admitted that he is "deeply ashamed" of the clergy sex abuse scandal that has devastated the American church. Benedict pledged that pedophiles would not be priests in the Roman Catholic Church.[101]

Effect of scandal on the Catholic Church


Closing of schools and parishes

The multi-million dollar payouts to victims has had a significant impact on the finances of many dioceses. Many of them have had to close schools and parishes in order to raise the funds to make these payments.

Continued allegations

While the Church in the United States claims to have addressed the issue, others maintain the only change is the Church has hardened its defenses while allowing abuse to continue. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops convened a meeting in Dallas on June 12, 2002 to address the sex abuse scandal. However, a Dallas Morning News article claimed nearly two-thirds of the bishops attending had themselves at one point covered for sexually abusive priests.[102]

In 2005, Dr. Kathleen McChesney of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that the crisis is not yet over because thousands of victims across the country are still reporting the abuse. She said: "In 2004, at least 1,092 allegations of sexual abuse were made against at least 756 Catholic priests and deacons in the United States. Most of the alleged incidents occurred between 1965 and 1974. What is over is the denial that this problem exists, and what is over is the reluctance of the Church to deal openly with the public about the nature and extent of the problem."[103]

Abuse in literature and film

A number of books have been written, see List of books portraying pedophilia or sexual abuse of minors, about the abuse suffered from priests and nuns including Andrew Madden in Altar Boy: A Story of Life After Abuse, Carolyn Lehman's Strong at the Heart: How it feels to heal from sexual abuse and the bestselling Kathy's Story by Kathy O'Beirne which details physical and sexual abuse suffered in a Magdalene laundry in Ireland.

The Magdalene laundries caught the public's attention in the late 1990s as revelations of widespread abuse from former inmates gathered momentum and were made the subject an award-winning film called The Magdalene Sisters (2002). In 2006, a documentary called Deliver Us From Evil was made about the sex abuse cases and one priest's confession of abuse.

Several other films have been made about sex abuse within the Church, including:


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Additional reading

  • Groeschel, F. Benedict, From Scandal to Hope (OSV, 2002)
  • Jenkins, Philip, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis (Oxford University Press, 2001). ISBN 0-19-514597-6.
  • Lobdell, William, "Missionary's Dark Legacy; Two remote Alaska villages are still reeling from a Catholic volunteer's sojourn three decades ago, when he allegedly molested nearly every Eskimo boy in the parishes. The accusers, now men, are scarred emotionally and struggle to cope. They are seeking justice," Los Angeles Times, Nov 19, 2005, p. A.1
  • Ranan, David, Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church (Theo Press Ltd., 2007) ISBN 978-0-95541-330-8.

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