Worldwide scandal in the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church has faced a raft of allegations of child sex abuse by priests and an inadequate response by
bishops. To date, allegations are abundant.
- In Belgium: The bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned in April 2010 after admitting that he had sexually
abused a boy for years when he was a priest and after being made a bishop. After the Vangheluwe case came to
light, a commission was set up to investigate the extent of abuse and released harrowing details of some 300
cases of alleged sexual abuse by Belgian clergy. Of these thirteen alleged victims had committed suicide.
No evidence indicated that the Church sought to cover up the abuse.
- In Ireland: Two major reports into allegations of pedophilia among Irish clergy last year revealed the
shocking extent of abuse, cover-ups and hierarchical failings involving thousands of victims, and stretching
back decades. The Dublin archdiocese, it said, operated in a culture of concealment, placing the integrity
of its institutions above the welfare of the children in its care. Four Dublin archbishops were found to
have effectively turned a blind eye to cases of abuse from 1975 to 2004, Additionally, some six decades of
physical, sexual and emotional abuse were uncovered at residential institutions run by 18 religious
orders. Furthermore, in March 2010, the commission discovered that the head of the Irish Catholic Church,
Cardinal Sean Brady, was present when the abused children signed vows of silence thereby protecting a paedophile
- In the United States: A report commissioned by the Church found more than 4,000 US Roman Catholic priests had
faced sexual abuse allegations in the last 50 years, in cases involving more than 10,000 children - mostly boys.
A series of huge payouts has been made by US diocese to alleged victims of abuse - the largest being some
$660m in 2007 from the Los Angeles Archdiocese. During a tour of the US in 2008, the Pope met privately
with victims of abuse by priests and spoke of "the pain and the harm inflicted by the sexual abuse of
minors". In March 2010 documents emerged suggesting that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became
Pope, failed to respond to letters from US clergy about cases of alleged child sex abuse by a priest
in Wisconsin. Archbishops had complained about Fr Lawrence Murphy in 1996 to a Vatican office led by
the future Pope, but apparently received no response.
- Germany: Since the start of 2010, at least 300 people have made allegations of sexual or physical
abuse by priests. Claims are being investigated in 18 of Germany's 27 Roman Catholic dioceses. Accusations
include the abuse of more than 170 children by priests at Jesuit schools, three Catholic schools in Bavaria,
and within the Regensburg Domspatzen school boys' choir that was directed for 30 years by Monsignor Georg
Ratzinger, the Pope's brother.
And, Father Peter Hullermann, who was convicted of molesting boys during
his time in the archdiocese of Munich and Freising, was suspended from his duties after breaching a
ban on working with children.
- In Italy: In June 2010 a high-profile former priest was charged with sexual abuse of 12 young people at
a drug rehabilitation centre he founded. Later last year the Associated Press news agency obtained a
written statement from 67 of the school's former pupils naming 24 priests, brothers and lay religious
men who they accused of sexual abuse, paedophilia and corporal punishment.
- In Netherlands: In March 2010, Dutch bishops ordered an independent inquiry into more than 200
allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests. Allegations first centred on Don Rua monastery
school in the eastern Netherlands, with people saying they were abused by Catholic priests in the
1960s and 70s. This prompted dozens more alleged victims from other institutions to come forward.
- In Austria: A series of claims of sexual abuse by priests has emerged in the Vorarlberg region.
Some 16 people have reported 27 alleged incidents there, spanning half a century. Ten children are
alleged to have been abused at a monastery in Mehrerau in the 1970s and early 80s. Five priests
at a monastery in Kremsmuenster in Upper Austria have been suspended after complaints of sexual
and physical abuse of boys there. Separately, the head of a Salzburg monastery, Bruno Becker,
resigned after confessing to having abused a boy 40 years ago, when he was a monk.
- In Switzerland: A commission set up by the Swiss Bishops Conference reported that 60 people
have said they were abused by Catholic priests. The alleged incidents are reported to have occurred
over the past 15 years.
These acts and allegations reveal an appalling behavior by both priests and bishops. However, it
shouldn't come as a complete surprise that priest are capable of grave sins. We do not know the specific
causes of the fall of these priests anymore than we can defintively state the causes of pedophilia,
even though there is a strong correlation that pedophiles were abused as children. But certainly, we
should take into account the intent of these abuses. It is known, by a great deal of research, that
pedophilia activities are extensively planned. Pedophiles seek positions of respect and authority to
hide their intent, are very clever and adept in grooming their targets, and are skilled in presenting
themselves as very reputable individuals. Hence, seeking respectable positions as clergy, teachers, and
coaches, where they are around children, are very attractive
It should also be noted that the great majority of these allegations reference crimes more than 10 years old,
and that the Church has been frank and straight forward in cooperating with civil authorities. Over this
time the investigation and selection of clerics has undergone extensive re-evaluation. Obviously, these
precedures weren't as strict and thorough in the past as they are today, and it is a credit to the Church
that it has accepted full responsibility, made restitution, and has taken strong measures to protect
its parishioners, particularly innocent children.
It, also, should not be surprisinmg that bishops would seek to protect priests and the Church. Protecting
the reputation of Church is somewhat ingrained, almost as ingrained as protecting the reputation of sinners under
the seal of confession. Even with that in mind, there were means available to protect the innocent by
counselling, removing faculties, or by laicizing offending priests. That the bishops chose not to do so is
certainly a derilection of duty. However, the Church, in response to these scandals, has taken extensive
and effective steps to guard against future abuses. This is highly laudable - much more so than that of
the American Congress that has a slush fund to cover such allegations and crimes. Thus, society needs to
be as forthright, using the experience of the Church as a model. Those, who are critical of the Church,
may need to clean their own houses as well.
However, even given the strong steps the Church has taken, it rocks our faith that such a thing can happen
by those who are called to be examples of holiness. For the faithful, its important to differentiate the sins
of individuals, and the mismanagement of priests, from the fundamental doctrine that was give to the Church by
Christ himself. Though believers, even priests, may stumble and fall, the teaching and holiness of the Church
will prevail because it is the Body of Christ and is protected by the Holy Spirit. With a responsiveness to these
issues, and an acceptance of guilt and responsibility, the remant of Catholic Church will emerge stronger
and more faithful, though many will be lost because of the scandal.
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