CBC recently had a story that caught my attention. The story was called, Leading member of pope’s sex abuse panel quits, says Vatican is stonewalling. I haven’t heard much about the sexual abuse scandal in a long time, so I naturally assumed that the church had dealt with the issue. It seems I was wrong.
The news article reports that Marie Collins, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, quit out of frustration because of the lack of co-operation from other Vatican offices, known as the Curia. Ms. Collins claims there is “cultural resistance” at the Vatican that include some officials refusing the pope’s instructions to reply to all correspondence from abuse survivors. Collins wondered if the continuing reluctance to address the problem is “driven by internal politics, fear of change, clericalism which instills a belief that ‘they know best’ or a closed mindset which sees abuse as an inconvenience?”
Now I applaud Pope Francis as I sincerely believe he is trying to correct a wrong. A CBC article, Pope condemns “evil” child abuse, reports that in 2014, Pope Francis made his first public plea for forgiveness for the “evil” committed by priests who molested children. He then stated, “I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests… [committed]… to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children.” He went on to say, “The Church is aware of this … personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem…” It was then that Pope Francis set up the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, a commission whose job was to propose the best initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, so that everything possible was done to ensure that no more children are abused by predator priests.
Historically, there was a systematic cover up by bishops and other Catholic hierarchy in many dioceses around the world to cover up the crimes of pedophile priests who raped children and committed other sexual abuses. This was done by moving allegedly abusive priests to other parishes, where abuse often continued. Protection of the institutional church became of all-encompassing importance to the Catholic hierarchy. Here is a brief history of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, reports of clergy sexually abusing children first surfaced in the mid 1980s. In the mid-1990s a number of books were published on the topic. The topic became the focus of intense scrutiny and debate after the Boston Globe published a series of articles covering cases of sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese.
The National Catholic Reporter reports that in January of 2002, a Judge ordered Boston Cardinal Bernard Law to turn over 10,000 pages of records. The Boston Globe used this evidence to initiate an extensive series on clerical sexual abuse in the archdiocese. It was the Globe and Mail that revealed that John Geoghan, a former Boston priest, who was accused of abusing more than 130 children during his 30 years as a priest and as a result was convicted of molesting a child in 1991 and sentenced to 9-10 years in prison where he was killed by a inmate.
According to a study being conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, about 4% of priests committed an act of sexual abuse on a minor between 1950 and 2002. However, it should be noted that the graphs and statistics sited in the report end before the Boston scandal.
The sexual abuse of children under the age of consent by priests has been reported in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany and Australia as well as other nations throughout the world. Many of the cases spanned several decades and were brought forward years after the abuse occurred.
This abuse is not unique to the Catholic church. Wikipedia has a list of abuse allegations that occurred in Jewish communities, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), the Anglican Church, as well as other religious institutions.
It isn’t just prevalent in religious communities. In Portland, Ore, a jury reached a $1.4 million verdict against the Boy Scouts of America in a trial that showed that since the 1920s, Scouts officials kept “perversion files” on suspected abusers but kept them secret.
The Huffington Post reports that in June 17, 2012 then Pope Benedict XVI told Irish Catholics that it is a “mystery” to him why priests and other church officials have been abusing children entrusted to their care for at least the past several decades.
Much of the abuse in the Catholic church was directed towards altar boys. I was an altar boy in the 1960s so I could have easily been one of those victims. Thankfully, I wasn’t. I can easily see how the abuse occurred. In the 1960s it was taught that the “holy fathers” (priests in other words) were directly consecrated by God. These men believed they were Christ’s representatives on earth and were acting on Christ’s behalf. These men were often put in charge of large numbers of children who have been taught that priests are God’s representatives and must be obeyed in all matters. You can see how easily abusing young children would have been. Talk about a “betrayal of trust.” I personally knew some of the priests who were accused of sexual abusing children.
I also personally know people who have experienced sexual abuse, none of which were by priests however. Nonetheless, I’ve seen firsthand what this abuse has did to them. People who were abused as children become damaged adults. Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan (SASS) is a provincial membership organization that supports agencies who offer services to survivors of sexual assault and abuse. This organization says survivors experience many of these responses after sexual assault or abuse:
- Diminished self-esteem with frequent feelings of shame, humiliation, guilt, anger, and powerlessness
- Negative self/body image and feelings of ugliness associated with shame and embarrassment of body
- Physical symptoms of stress – such as headaches, stomach upsets, eating and sleeping problems, lethargy
- Increased anxieties or tendency towards depression or depressive behaviour
- Feelings of anger, fear, rage, couple with numbness and disconnection from shock
- Increased isolation from others, withdrawn or difficulty trusting others
- Erratic mood swings from hyper-alert to inconsolable grief to aggressive
- Increased usage of alcohol or drugs to numb or cope with feelings and memories
- Self-harm such as cutting, burning or scratching as way to numb or cope with feelings
- Difficulty in returning to usual behaviours with inter-personal relationships
- No or little desire for sexual intimacy
- Increase in risky sexual behaviours
- Flashbacks of the incident(s) and fear of being alone
- Nightmares or other sleep disturbances
- Loss of employment or school time due to inability to concentrate
This is why, in my view, sexual abuse by clergy is so difficult to comprehend. These men were supposed to be holy folks; people who carry out God’s work, yet they carried out heinous acts. This is why, in my view, crimes by the priesthood or a minister are so much graver and need to be taken seriously. Furthermore, those at the top of the hierarchy who knew of these scandalous acts, and yet still protected the abusers, should be even more shamefaced. I applaud Pope Francis for trying to prevent these atrocious crimes from happening again, but it seems there is still resistance within the church to deal with the issue seriously.
The Guardian quotes Father Thomas Doyle, a former canonical lawyer at the Vatican’s Washington embassy, as saying, “One of the massive holes in the Roman Catholic church’s approach to this issue, still today, is a failure to completely comprehend the depth of the spiritual damage that is done to the victims, to their families, especially their parents, to their friends and to the community itself.” It is not difficult to understand why the faithful are confused when they were taught that sexual acts outside of marriage were intrinsically evil, always a mortal sin (an action that leads to a separation from God’s saving grace), and never moral, regardless of intention or circumstance. To preach one thing and act in opposition to what was taught would confuse anyone. I’m sure Jesus must be weeping.