Another Year of Sex Abuse Revelations in the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has been a topic of scrutiny in the media for decades now as more and more sexual abuse cases are brought to light, the most recent being today’s Washington Post report that the Baltimore Archdiocese has released the names of 23 clergy accused of sexual abuse.

The sexual abuse case that sparked initial fury with the Catholic Church on a national level was uncovered in Boston. The Oscar winning film Spotlight vividly depicts the investigative reporting done by The Boston Globe in 2001 and 2002, when they discovered the unfathomable truth that former priest John J. Geoghan sexually abused more than 130 boys during a three-decade spree with the knowledge of several bishops. 

John Geoghan

John Geoghan

When accusations against Geoghan surfaced, he was immediately transferred to another diocese where he then abused other boys. He was seen by clinicians who believed child molesters could be cured, but other specialists warned Catholic bishops of the high risk that “priests who had abused children would become repeat offenders.”

And that’s exactly what happened. 

The gruesome details and entire cover-up by the archdiocese demolished Boston—a city where Catholicism is heavily practiced by a bulk of the population.

As The Boston Globe reporters continued to investigate the scandal surrounding Geoghan, they came to discover that the Archdiocese of Boston settled child molestation claims against at least 70 priests in the last 10 years prior to 2001. In addition, after the initial article was published depicting Geoghan’s pedophilia and the church’s determination to keep it undetectable, hundreds came forward claiming they were abused by priests and sought out lawyers. 

The first time I watched Spotlight, I felt it necessary for me to become fully aware of the sex scandals occurring in the Catholic Church and their response to this ever-growing crisis. 

This definitely stemmed from the fact that I attended Catholic school for 12 years of my life before enrolling into LIM College, and no, not one of the progressive ones—I’m talking strict, closed-minded, and incredibly divisive. For those who didn’t blindly agree with everything that was taught, which included me, it was frustrating.  

Although Spotlight premiered in 2015, I didn’t come across it until a few years later, which was after I graduated high school. Reflecting back on my experiences at Pius X High School, it almost baffles me how this film or just any other indication of the sexual abuse that occurs in the church wasn’t discussed at all. But meanwhile, there was no hesitation to dehumanize gay marriage or vilify Planned Parenthood.

I understand that the long history of sexual abuse in the church is an incredibly sensitive and controversial topic, but hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have been victims, and it needs to be more openly addressed. 

A more recent investigation resurfaced the sex abuse crisis that according to The Washington Post, “many in the church thought and hoped [it] ended nearly 20 years ago after … Boston.” They were far from correct. 

A grand jury report released last August stated that more than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania sexually abused children over seven decades and were “protected by a hierarchy of church leaders who covered it up.”

The 18-month long investigation identified 1,000 children who were victims but disclosed that there are most likely thousands more. The report detailed one of the most extensive investigations into church sex abuse in United States history.  

“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades,” the grand jury wrote in its report.

Due to the immense coverup of abuse in six of Pennsylvania’s dioceses, the majority of the findings are too old to be prosecuted. The state’s statutes of limitation state that victims of child sex abuse have until they are 30 to file civil suits and until they are 50 to file criminal charges. The oldest victim who spoke to the grand jury was 83. 

Nicola Corradi

Nicola Corradi

The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has not been limited to the United States.

In 2016, the arrest of Italian priest Nicola Corradi exposed one of the worst global abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. More than a dozen priests preyed on isolated children who attended Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf in Argentina. According to The Washington Post, church officials—including Pope Francis—were warned repeatedly and directly about the priests that were pedophiles yet took no apparent action.

Argentina law enforcement were the ones that stepped in and shut down the school—ensuring Corradi and other priests were not able to continue their sexual abuse on children.

Corradi was also under investigation for sexual crimes at a sister school in Argentina where he worked from 1970 to 1994. His abuse also spans over to another continent. Alumni of a related school in Italy identified Corradi as being among a number of priests who carried out abuse over five decades. 

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, France, offered his resignation in early March after being found guilty of failing to report the child abuse done by Rev. Bernard Preynat to the authorities from 2014 to 2015. According to The New York Times, parishioners accused the priest of sexually abusing dozens of Boy Scouts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the cardinal remained silent. 

The conviction of Cardinal Barbarin was the first in France against a high-profile clergyman. 

Young children—primarily boys—are not the only targets of sexual abuse in the church. 

Pope Francis confirmed in February that nuns have and are still suffering sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests and bishops—even held as sexual slaves. 

According to CBS News, the abuse of nuns by clergy members first came to light with the February issue of the Vatican magazine Women Church World. An outcry was heard, and it depicted the sexual abuse of nuns in which some felt forced to undergo abortions or raise children not recognized by their fathers. 

Nuns in India and Chile have previously reported abuse, and the pope confirmed it was an ongoing problem but stated “we are working on it.” 

Pope Francis at his summit regarding the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church

Pope Francis at his summit regarding the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church

 As the long list of sexual abuse scandals continues to increase in the Catholic Church, the pressure to find a concrete solution and end abuse when it has been previously covered up for decades has been felt immensely by Pope Francis. 

Pope Francis called for a summit in the Vatican City with all Catholic leaders—patriarchs, cardinals, archbishops, and bishops—to discuss the sexual abuse happening in the church and called “for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors.” 

But many victims and their advocates expressed pure disappointment, saying there were no actual steps set in place to address this problem. 

Instead, the pope focused on “changing the hearts and minds of church leaders” to combat this crisis. Victims were disgusted that the pope only provided tepid promises rather than a policy of zero tolerance and instant dismissal of abusive priests and the bishops who protect them. 

In the beginning of his speech, Pope Francis focused on the prevalence of child abuse across society: “… the sexual abuse of minors is, and historically has been, a widespread phenomenon in all cultures and societies.” 

Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-founder of Bishop Accountability which tracks clergy sex abuse cases, was utterly stunned at the pope’s apathetic words. 

“He was defensive, rationalizing that abuse happens in all sectors of society. Ironically and sadly, he exhibited no responsibility, no accountability, and no transparency,” Doyle said as quoted in The Guardian

While pedophilia is obviously not limited to the church, it is a fact that no other large institution has been as plagued by the scale of abuse seen in the Catholic Church, as well as the systematic delay in reform efforts. 

Thoughts and prayers have never, and will never, be enough to end this sickening crisis that has affected thousands of lives around the world. A great number of priests and bishops still need to be held accountable and face actual consequences for their irreversible actions. 

The Catholic Church needs to incorporate new policies to regain the credibility and trust it once had.