Church Sex Abuse Scandal

Church sex abuse scandal can refer to any of many allegations of sexual abuse made against Christian clergy. However, due to widespread publicity and media coverage beginning in the 1980s, the term mainly pertains to the sex abuse cases involving children and young adults, which have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the past few decades. Although substantial numbers of cases have been reported worldwide, the majority of cases have been reported in the United States. The scandal has resulted in lawsuits costing the Catholic Church nearly (USD) 2.6 billion in jury awards, settlements and legal fees over the course of six decades, and has triggered hundreds of forced resignations of accused priests and, in some cases, their hierarchical superiors. Others have been defrocked or laicized, essentially removed from all functions and privileges of ordained ministry.

In 2004, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to investigate allegations, commonly known as the John Jay Report (http://www.usccb.org/nrb/nrbstudy/nrbreport.htm#johnjay). The study accumulated the results of questionnaires from 97% of Catholic dioceses across the nation. It reported information from each case of alleged abuse although information regarding either the victims or the accused was never disclosed. According to the report, approximately four out of five reported victims were male, of which half were between the ages of 11 and 14. Nearly 23% were below the age of ten and 27% between the ages of 15 and 17.

The results also indicated that for the previous five decades, as many 10,667 individual cases of alleged child sexual abuse had been reported, of which 63% (of total cases) had been investigated by Church leadership. Almost 4% of the priests serving in the United States (approximately 4,392) had stood accused of an immoral act with a minor. The study also reported that the trend of abuse had been on the rise since the 1950s, peaking sharply in the 1960's and 1970's, and has steadily declined since then. What may have been the most disturbing finding in the report, however, was that the civil authorities had been contacted in only about 23% (1,021) of the cases, and of these only 384 individuals were charged, 252 were convicted and at least 100 served time in prison. In the remaining cases, no civil investigation was conducted due to the fact that the victim did not come forward until after the death of the perpetrator.

From this, the USCCB in its "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" ratified a standard protocol for handling future sex abuse allegations against Catholic clergy involving minors in its proposed Restoring Trust program. In order to foster an environment of accountability, it adopted a zero tolerance policy of abusers regardless of the amount of time since the reported abuse and mandated that civil authorities be alerted. The process for handling future cases was handed over to the national Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection as well as National Review Board.

The USCCB also addressed specific issues relating to the presence in the Catholic Church of Priests who are sexual abusers. One proposal was made to rectify the laxity in admissions for candidates clearly not fit to serve the community either emotionally or psychologically, while another addressed the non-intellectual aspects of seminary training including both emotional and psychological preparation. The issue of sexual orientation and celibacy remained under debate.

There are some who support the exclusion of candidates with homosexual orientation to the priesthood for various reasons, including the increased temptations during seminary training and the religious requirement to sacrifice the "good of married life and fatherhood." While others differentiate between homosexuality and homosexual acts and argue that a qualified, mature candidate who is capable of adopting a celibate lifestyle, whether heterosexual or homosexual, may be "espoused to the Church" and his ordination should remain within the purview of the Bishop.

With regards to celibacy, the case for or against in the Catholic Church was not addressed as much as the attitudes that prevailed within the priesthood. It was generally accepted that adopting a celibate life through entering the priesthood as a means of "genuine sacrifice" rather than as a means of "escape or denial" should remain the focus of candidate screening and seminary training. It was also suggested that a stronger response to violations of celibacy that did not involve minors be strongly addressed.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Sin against the Innocents: Sexual Abuse by Priests and the Role of the Catholic Church
Thomas G. Plante.
Praeger, 2004
Freedom of the Press and Catholic Social Thought: Reflections on the Sexual Abuse Scandal in the Catholic Church in the United States
Decosse, David E.
Theological Studies, Vol. 68, No. 4, December 2007
The "Licentiousness" in Religious Organizations and Why It Is Not Protected under Religious Liberty Constitutional Provisions
Hamilton, Marci A.
The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 18, No. 4, May 2010
The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis: Reform and Renewal in the Catholic Community
Paul R. Dokecki.
Georgetown University Press, 2004
Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned: Perspectives on Sexual Abuse Committed by Roman Catholic Priests
Thomas G. Plante.
Praeger, 1999
THE CHURCH'S SEX-ABUSE CRISIS : What's Old, What's New, What's Needed-And Why
Steinfels, Peter.
Commonweal, Vol. 129, No. 8, April 19, 2002
Catholic Clergy Sexual Abuse Meets the Civil Law
Doyle, Thomas P.; Rubino, Stephen C.
Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 31, No. 2, January 2004
"Workers of God": The Holy See's Liability for Clerical Sexual Abuse
Neu, Jacob William.
Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 63, No. 5, October 2010
'Truth Must Be Told,' Says Archbishop: Martin Recounts Irish Abuse Scandal at Marquette Conference
Roberts, Tom.
National Catholic Reporter, Vol. 47, No. 13, April 15, 2011
Catholic Reactions to the Sex Abuse Scandal
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National Catholic Reporter, Vol. 48, No. 1, October 28, 2011
The Priest Scandal: How Old News at Last Became a Dominant National Story ... and Why It Took So Long
Cannon, Carol M.
American Journalism Review, Vol. 24, No. 4, May 2002
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