An Unholy Conspiracy: The Vatican and Clergy Sexual Abuse

By Morello, Sara E. | Conscience, Autumn 2002 | Go to article overview

An Unholy Conspiracy: The Vatican and Clergy Sexual Abuse


Morello, Sara E., Conscience


The ongoing sexual abuse scandal has hurt the Catholic church deeply. Yet many still seem to think that it is an "American problem" as so many cases occurred in the United States. However, that is far from the truth. The evidence below reveals the culpability of the Catholic hierarchy around the globe in blighting the lives of thousands of young men and women around the world.

The heart-rending stories beggar belief: boys and girls abused by trusted priests; bishops quietly transferring these sexual predators to other parishes putting other children at risk; nobody accepting any responsibility for these horrors and indeed attempting to conceal evidence.

Over 5,000 cases of child abuse by Catholic clergy have been reported in the media since 1995. At the same time, we have witnessed a cover-up of this abuse by authorities in the Catholic church: the abusers, their bishops, religious order superiors, and the highest officers in the Holy See. While voluminous press coverage of this problem in the US is available and it has even been suggested that this is a singularly American problem, sadly, for the world's children, the scandal reaches around the globe.

Public accounts from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, France, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and many others have been reported by the media.

* In Brazil, newspapers recently reported accounts of twelve Catholic priests who sexually assaulted more than forty children.

* In May 2002, a Catholic leader in Hong Kong released information that three priests had been found guilty of child sexual abuse.

* In the Philippines, the bishops' conference estimates that 200 of the country's priests could be guilty of sexual misconduct and abuse occurring over the last twenty years.

* In Chile, at least five open cases of priests accused of sexually abusing minors were reported in early 2002.

* In January 2002, several religious orders in Ireland agreed to pay $110 million (USD) to people who, as children, had suffered physical and sexual abuse in schools and child care institutions run by the Catholic church.

* Since 1995, thirty priests in France have been convicted of sexual abuse; twenty-one similar cases were reported in Britain between 1995 and 1999, and between 1994 and 2001 in Germany, there were thirteen cases.

In many of the reported cases, it is not just mere priests who have been involved in allegations of abuse and cover-up, but prestigious members of the Catholic hierarchy. Between 1993 and June 2002, eleven bishops around the world resigned amid allegations of sexual abuse, or cover-ups of abuse.

In Austria, Hans Hermann Cardinal Groer of Vienna resigned in 1998 over allegations of his sexual abuse of boys at a seminary in the 1970s, and in Poland, the Most Reverend Juliusz Paetz, Archbishop of Poznan, resigned in March 2002, following similar allegations. In France, not only was a priest convicted of raping and molesting eleven children, his superior, Bishop Pierre Pican, was convicted of actively concealing evidence about the abuse. In Belgium in 1998, a criminal court ordered Cardinal Godfried Danneels and a local bishop to pay damages to a victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, recognizing the superiors' responsibility for oversight of the priest's actions.

One of Germany's leading prelates, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, when speaking of child sexual abuse by priests recently predicted that, "we can expect more revelations." In some cases, the sheer number of victims and claimants is staggering: at least fifty cases of clergy sexual abuse of children have been uncovered recently in Australia, where in 1993, nearly 200 former students of Catholic schools filed suit alleging rapes and beatings at the hands of religious brothers, while in Ireland and Canada thousands of cases of abuse of children committed to the church's care have been reported. …

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