The Church Abuse Scandal: Were Crimes against Humanity Committed?

By Groome, Dermot | Chicago Journal of International Law, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

The Church Abuse Scandal: Were Crimes against Humanity Committed?


Groome, Dermot, Chicago Journal of International Law


Abstract

Increasingly shocking revelations about sexual abuse by members of Catholic religious congregations and diocesan priests have recently raised the question of whether such widespread abuses constitute crimes against humanity. This paper considers that question in the context of a report issued by the Ryan Commission, an independent quasi-judicial commission that spent ten years conducting detailed investigations into childcare institutions operated by Catholic religious congregations in Ireland. The Ryan Commission's findings with respect to both widespread physical and sexual abuse provide a factual basis upon which to consider whether crimes against humanity were in fact committed. Contrasting the intentionality behind excessive physical violence with the recklessness of allowing known pedophiles access to children highlights an important definitional requirement of crimes against humanity: that such not only be widespread and systematic-which both clearly are-but that such be in the context of an attack directed against a civilian population. While the systematic use of excessive corporal punishment to control children committed to industrial schools constitutes an "attack" upon them, the systematic cover-up of sexual abuse to prevent public scandal thereby causing widespread sexual abuse raises the question of whether an "attack" on a civilian population can be the result of criminal recklessness.

The atypical characteristics of the perpetrator, victim, and non-conflict context of these crimes also contribute to the debate on two unresolved issues in international law: first, the role of a "state policy" underlying an attack and whether the existence of one is a definitional requirement or simply an evidential consideration; second, whether a culpable omission forming the basis of international criminal responsibility can be based on non-criminal legal duties.

"Justice for crimes against humanity must have no limitations."1

I. INTRODUCTION

Recent calls for the prosecution of Catholic Church officials reflect a deep sense of outrage at what reasonably appears to be widespread sexual abuse by clergy.2 While these crimes are undoubtedly violations of national law, whether they are violations of international criminal law is a question poignantly raised by these allegations. Some commentators have emphatically asserted that crimes against humanity have been committed and that high church officials should answer for them. Garnering less media attention are crimes of physical abuse perpetrated in childcare institutions operated by religious congregations. This article considers the question of whether international crimes were committed by applying the definitional requirements of crimes against humanity to the factual findings of a quasi-judicial commission established by the Irish government that for over ten years investigated allegations of systematic physical and sexual abuse in Ireland's childcare institutions.4 The report of the Ryan Commission was chosen for this exercise because of the thoroughness of its work, the similarity of its methods to the judicial adjudication of disputed facts, and its detailed analysis of the evidence it heard. Although the work of the Ryan Commission focuses on a limited set of allegations and not the overall problem of clerical sexual abuse facing the universal Catholic Church, it does provide the reliable findings upon which to consider questions related to international law. While the following analysis is limited to the findings of the Ryan Commission with respect to the Christian Brothers' childcare institutions, it is relevant to the broader debate of widespread sexual and physical abuse by Catholic clergy.

John Branded served as a Christian Brother for almost twenty years. His sexual and physical abuse of children was commonly known to superiors of the Christian Brothers congregation. He was removed from the Christian Brothers with a grant of dispensation from his vows - a process that concealed his criminal acts. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Church Abuse Scandal: Were Crimes against Humanity Committed?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.