Catholic Church sexual abuse cases

Graffiti on a Lisbon wall depicting a priest chasing two children

Cases of sexual abuse (particularly of children) and subsequent cover-ups committed during the 20th and 21st centuries by Catholic priests, nuns, and members of Roman Catholic orders have led to numerous allegations, investigations, trials and convictions. The abused include boys and girls, some as young as 3 years old, with the majority between the ages of 11 and 14.[1][2][3][4]

The accusations began to receive wide publicity in the late 1980s. Many of these involve cases in which a figure was accused of abuse for decades; such allegations were frequently made by adults or older youths years after the abuse occurred. Cases have also been brought against members of the Catholic hierarchy who covered up sex abuse allegations onset on seminary formations,[5] and through moving allegedly abusive priests to other parishes, where abuse sometimes continued.[6][7]

The cases received significant media and public attention throughout the world, especially in Ireland, Canada, and the United States. Members of the Church's hierarchy have argued that media coverage was excessive and disproportionate, and that such abuse takes place in other religions and institutions.[8] A series of television documentaries in the 1990s, such as "Suffer the children" (UTV, 1994), brought the issue to national attention in Ireland.[9] A critical investigation by The Boston Globe in 2002 led to widespread media coverage of the issue in the United States, which was later dramatized in Tom McCarthy's film Spotlight in 2015. By 2010, much of the reporting focused on abuse in Europe.[10][11]

From 2001 to 2010 the Holy See, the central governing body of the Catholic Church, considered sex abuse allegations involving about 3,000 priests dating back up to fifty years.[12] Cases worldwide reflect patterns of long-term abuse and of the church hierarchy regularly covering up reports of alleged abuse.[note 1] Diocesan officials and academics knowledgeable about the Roman Catholic Church say that sexual abuse by clergy is generally not discussed, and thus is difficult to measure.[13][14] In the Philippines, where as of 2002 at least 85% of the population is Catholic, revelations of child sexual abuse by priests followed the United States' reporting in 2002.[15]

Some studies claim that priests in the Catholic Church may not be any more likely than other men to commit abuse.[12][16][17][18] In addition, the studies claim that the rate of abuse by priests had fallen sharply in the last twenty to thirty years, and that some 75% of the cases in the United States occurred between 1960 and 1985.[12]

International extent of issue

Catholic Church – Percentage by country.

The sexual abuse of children under the age of consent by priests has received significant media and public attention in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany and Australia. Cases have also been reported in other nations throughout the world.[13] Many of the cases span several decades and are brought forward years after the abuse occurred.

Although nationwide inquiries have been conducted only in the United States and Ireland, also an Australian inquiry into institutional responses, cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors have been reported and prosecuted in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other countries. In 1994, allegations of sexual abuse of 47 young seminarians surfaced in Argentina.[19] In 1995, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër resigned from his post as Archbishop of Vienna, Austria over allegations of sexual abuse, although he remained a Cardinal.[20] Since 1995, more than 100 priests from various parts of Australia were convicted of sexual abuse.[21]

In Ireland, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse issued a report that covered six decades (from the 1950s). It noted "endemic" sexual abuse in Catholic boys' institutions, saying that church leaders were aware of abuses and that government inspectors failed to "stop beatings, rapes and humiliation."[22][23] The commission's report on church abuse ran to five volumes.[24] The report noted the "centrality of poverty and social vulnerability in the lives of the victims of abuse."[23]

In Australia, according to Broken Rites, a support and advocacy group for church-related sex abuse victims, as of 2011 there have been over one hundred cases in which Catholic priests have been charged for child sex offences.[25][26] A 2012 police report detailed 40 suicide deaths directly related to abuse by Catholic clergy in the state of Victoria.[27] In January 2013, an Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was called to investigate institutional sexual abuse of minors related, but not exclusive, to matters concerning clergy of the Catholic Church.[28]

Of the Catholic sexual abuse cases in Latin America, the most widely known is the sexual scandal of Father Marcial Maciel, the leader of the Legion of Christ, a Roman Catholic congregation made up of priests and seminarians studying for the priesthood.[29] The revelations took place after the Legion spent more than a decade denying allegations and criticizing the victims who claimed abuse.[30]

In Tanzania, Father Kit Cunningham and three other priests were exposed as paedophiles after Cunningham's death.[31][32] The abuse took place in the 1960s but was only publicly revealed in 2011, largely through a BBC documentary.[33][34]

Church officials and academics knowledgeable about the Third World Roman Catholic Church say that sexual abuse by clergy is generally not discussed, and thus is difficult to measure.[13] This may be due in part to the more hierarchical structure of the Church in Third World countries, the "psychological health" of clergy in those regions, and because Third World media, legal systems and public culture are not as apt to thoroughly discuss sexual abuse.[13] In the Philippines, where as of 2002 at least 85% of the population is Catholic, the revelations of sexual abuse by priests, including child sexual abuse, followed the United States' widespread reporting in 2002.[15]

Academic Mathew N. Schmalz notes India as an example: "you would have gossip and rumors, but it never reaches the level of formal charges or controversies."[13] Traditionally, the Roman Catholic Church has held tight control over many aspects of church life around the globe, including "the words used in prayer", but it left sex abuse cases to be handled locally.[13] In 2001, the church first required that sex abuse cases be reported to Rome.[13] In July 2010, the Vatican doubled the length of time after the 18th birthday of the victim in which clergymen can be tried in a church court. It also streamlined the processes for removing pedophile priests.[35][36][37]

According to a 2004 research study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 4,392 Catholic priests and deacons in active ministry between 1950 and 2002 have been plausibly (neither withdrawn nor disproven) accused by 10,667 individuals of the sexual abuse of a youth under the age of 18. Estimating the number of priests and deacons active in the same period at 110,000, the report concluded that approximately 4% have faced these allegations. The report noted that "It is impossible to determine from our surveys what percent of all actual cases of abuse that occurred between 1950 and 2002 have been reported to the Church and are therefore in our dataset."[38] The Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J. specializes in abuse counseling and is considered an expert on clerical abuse; he states "approximately 4% of priests during the past half century (and mostly in the 1960s and 1970s) have had a sexual experience with a minor."[39][40] According to Newsweek magazine, this figure is similar to the rate of frequency in the rest of the adult population.[41]

Allegations of and convictions for sexual abuse by clergy have occurred in many countries. There area no accurate figures available on the number of sexual abuse cases in different regions. But, in 2002 The Boston Globe reported, "clearly the issue has been most prominent in the United States."[13] The US is the country with the highest number of reported Catholic sex abuse cases.[42] Plante wrote, the "crisis in the United States reached epidemic proportions within the Church, the likes of which haven't been witnessed before."[39]

After the United States, the country with the next highest number of reported cases is Ireland.[23] A significant number of cases have also been reported in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and countries in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia.[43]

In response to the attention, members of the church hierarchy have argued that media coverage has been unfair, excessive, and disproportionate.[8] According to a Pew Research Center study, in 2002 the media coverage was focused on the US, where a Boston Globe series initiated widespread coverage in the region. However, by 2010 the focus had shifted to Europe.[10][11]

In September 2011, a submission was lodged with the International Criminal Court alleging that the Pope, Cardinal Angelo Sodano (Dean of the College of Cardinals), Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (Cardinal Secretary of State), and Cardinal William Levada (then-current Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) had committed a crime against humanity by failing to prevent or punish perpetrators of rape and sexual violence in a "systematic and widespread" concealment which included failure to co-operate with relevant law enforcement agencies.[44] In a statement to the Associated Press, the Vatican described this as a "ludicrous publicity stunt and a misuse of international judicial processes." Lawyers and law professors emphasised that the case is likely to fall outside the court's jurisdiction.[45]

Contemporary history of child sex abuse

Child sexual abuse is an umbrella term describing offenses in which an adult engages in sexual activity with a minor or exploits a minor for the purpose of sexual gratification.[46][47] The American Psychiatric Association states that "children cannot consent to sexual activity with adults," and condemns any such action by an adult as "a criminal and immoral act which never can be considered normal or socially acceptable behavior."[48] Only at the beginning of the 1900s did Western society begin to value children as persons whose "creative and intellectual potential require fostering" rather than "cheap labor".[49] According to The Atlantic, "the idea of the 'modern child' was shaped by the same forces that shaped the rest of society: industrialization, urbanization, and consumerism."[49]

Child sex abuse has gained public attention in the past few decades and has become one of the most high-profile crimes. Since the 1970s, child molestation and the sexual abuse of children has increasingly been recognized as deeply damaging to children and thus unacceptable for society as a whole. While sexual use of children by adults has occurred throughout history, only in recent times has it been examined as the object of significant public attention.[50] The first work dedicated to child sexual abuse was published in France in 1857: Medical-Legal Studies of Sexual Assault (Etude Médico-Légale sur les Attentats aux Mœurs), by Auguste Ambroise Tardieu, a noted French pathologist and pioneer of forensic medicine.[51]

Roman Catholic cases

In the late 1940s, American Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald founded the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious order that treats Roman Catholic priests who struggle with personal difficulties such as substance abuse and sexual misconduct. In a series of letters and reports to high-ranking Catholic leaders starting in the 1950s, Fitzgerald warned of substantial problems with pedophile priests. He wrote, for example, "[sexual abuse] offenders were unlikely to change and should not be returned to ministry." He discussed the problem with Pope Paul VI (1897 – 1978) and "in correspondence with several bishops".[52]

In 2001, the Vatican first required that sex abuse cases be reported to the Rome hierarchy; before that, it left management of the cases to local dioceses.[13] After the 2002 revelation by the Boston Globe that cases of abuse were widespread in the Church in Massachusetts and elsewhere, The Dallas Morning News did a year-long investigation.[1] It reported in 2004 that even after these revelations and public outcry, the institutional church had moved allegedly abusive priests out of the countries where they had been accused but assigned them again to "settings that bring them into contact with children, despite church claims to the contrary".[1] Among the investigation's findings was that nearly half of 200 cases "involved clergy who tried to elude law enforcement."[1]

The cases received significant media and public attention in the United States, Ireland (where abuse was reported as widespread), and Canada, and throughout the world.[13] In response to the attention, members of the church hierarchy have argued that media coverage has been excessive and disproportionate.[8] According to a Pew Research Center study, media coverage was generated mostly in the United States, beginning in 2002, with a Boston Globe series that published hundreds of news reports. By contrast, in 2010 much of the reporting focused on child abuse in Europe.[10][11]

Public and political issues

The earliest medical studies of child sex abuse were published in France by Auguste Ambroise Tardieu (1818–1879), though his work was often received negatively or ignored by peers. Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, first published in 1886 and subsequently revised and expanded several times, also discusses children as victims of sex crimes and uses the term "paedophilia erotica" to describe an adult's sexual preoccupation with children.

Studies on child molestation were not published in English until the 1920s. The first national estimate of the number of child sexual abuse cases was published in the United States in 1948. By 1968, 44 out of 50 U.S. states had enacted mandatory laws that required physicians to report cases of suspicious child abuse. Second wave feminism (early 1960s to late 1990s) brought greater awareness of child sexual abuse and violence against women, and made them public, political issues.[53][54]

Enactment of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974 in conjunction with the creation of the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect resulted in more legal actions undertaken against alleged abuse. Since passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the number of reported child abuse cases has increased dramatically. The National Abuse Coalition was created in 1979 to create pressure in Congress to develop more laws related to relief of sexual abuse. In 1986, Congress passed the Child Abuse Victims' Rights Act, giving children a civil claim in sexual abuse cases. The number of laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s provided for greater detection and prosecution of child sexual abusers. Megan's Law, enacted in 2004, gives the public access to nationwide data on the residences of convicted sex offenders.[55] Anne Hastings described these changes in attitudes towards child sexual abuse as "the beginning of one of history's largest social revolutions."[56]

According to professor B.J. Cling of John Jay College of Criminal Justice:

By the early 21st century, the issue of child sexual abuse has become a legitimate focus of professional attention, while increasingly separated from second wave feminism...As child sexual abuse becomes absorbed into the larger field of interpersonal trauma studies, child sexual abuse studies and intervention strategies have become degendered and largely unaware of their political origins in modern feminism and other vibrant political movements of the 1970s. One may hope that unlike in the past, this rediscovery of child sexual abuse that began in the 1970s will not again be followed by collective amnesia. The institutionalization of child maltreatment interventions in federally funded centers, national and international societies, and a host of research studies (in which the United States continues to lead the world) offers grounds for cautious optimism. Nevertheless, as Judith Herman argues cogently, 'The systematic study of psychological trauma...depends on the support of a political movement.'[57]


In many jurisdictions growing awareness of child sexual abuse and understanding of its psychological damage has resulted in an increasing number of civil lawsuits for monetary damages stemming from such incidents. More victims have come forward to report abuse, compared to past years in which they were shamed to silence. Some states have enacted specific laws lengthening the applicable statutes of limitations so as to allow victims of child sexual abuse to file suit sometimes years after they have reached the age of majority. Such lawsuits can be brought in cases where a person or entity—such as a school, church, or youth organization—was charged with supervising the child but failed to do so effectively, with child sexual abuse resulting. Since lawsuits can involve demanding procedures, there is a concern that children or adults who file suit will be re-victimized by defendants through the legal process, much as rape victims can be re-victimized by the accused in criminal rape trials. Child sexual abuse plaintiffs' attorney Thomas A. Cifarelli has written that children involved in the legal system, particularly victims of sexual abuse and molestation, should be afforded certain procedural safeguards to protect them from harassment during the legal process.[58]



In 2012, an Australian police report in the state of Victoria detailed 40 deaths by suicide of persons who had been child victims of Catholic clergy,[27] however the report was later discredited.[59] The Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry on the issue, recommended that some of the church's actions to hinder investigations be criminalized.[60] In one diocese, a dedicated clergy abuse police strike force (Strike Force Lantle) has laid more than 170 abuse charges.[61] On 13 November 2012, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference welcomed and promised cooperation with a Royal Commission, announced by the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, to broadly investigate child sexual abuse in institutions across Australia.[62]


In November 2010, an independent group in Austria[63] that operates a hotline to help people exit the Catholic Church released a report documenting physical, sexual, and emotional abuse perpetrated by Austrian priests, nuns, and other religious officials. The report is based on hotline calls from 91 women (28%) and 234 men (72%), who named 422 perpetrators of both sexes, 63% of whom were ordained priests.[64]


In June 2010, Belgian police raided the Belgian Catholic Church headquarters in Brussels, seizing a computer and records of a Church commission investigating allegations of child abuse. This was part of an investigation into hundreds of claims that had been raised about alleged child sexual abuse committed by Belgian clergy. The claims emerged after Roger Vangheluwe, who had been the Bishop of Bruges, resigned in 2009 after admitting that he was guilty of sexual molestation.[65] The Vatican protested against the raids.[66] In September 2010, an appeals court ruled that the raids were illegal.[67]


In the late 1980s, allegations were made of physical and sexual abuse committed by members of the Christian Brothers, who operated the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's, Newfoundland. The government, police, and church had colluded in an attempt to cover up the allegations, but in December 1989 they were reported in the St. John's Sunday Express. Eventually more than 300 former pupils came forward with allegations of physical and sexual abuse at the orphanage.[68] The religious order that ran the orphanage filed for bankruptcy in the face of numerous civil lawsuits seeking damages.[69] Since the Mount Cashel scandal, a number of priests across Canada have been accused of sexual abuse.

In August 2006, Father Charles Henry Sylvestre of Belle River, Ontario pleaded guilty to 47 counts of sexual abuse of females, aged between nine and fourteen years old, between 1952 and 1989.[70] Sylvestre was given a sentence in October 2006 of three years, and died 22 January 2007 after three months in prison.[71]

Dominican Republic

Jozef Wesolowski, a Polish citizen who had been a nuncio (papal ambassador), was laicized in 2014 because of accusations of sexual abuse of minors during the time he served as Vatican ambassador in Santo Domingo for five years.[72] The Vatican had made criminal charges against Wesolowski related to his abuse of minors and was going to try him. However, in July 2015 the trial was postponed due to Wesolowski's ill health and then he died on August 27, 2015 before a trial could be held.[73]


In 2002, Mathew N. Schmalz noted that Catholic Church sexual abuse cases in India are generally not spoken about openly, stating "you would have gossip and rumors, but it never reaches the level of formal charges or controversies."[13]

In 2014, Raju Kokkan, the vicar of the Saint Paul's Church in Thaikkattussery, Thrissur, Kerala, was arrested on charges of raping a nine-year-old girl. According to Kerala Police, Kokkan had raped the child on several different occasions, including at least thrice in his office during the month of April. Kokkan promised to gift the child expensive vestments for her Holy Communion ceremony before sexually assaulting her. The abuse was revealed after the victim informed her parents that she had been raped by Kokkan on 25 April 2014. The priest subsequently fled to Nagercoil in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, and was arrested by police on 5 May. Following the arrest, the Thrissur Archdiocese stated that the vicar had been removed from his position within the Church. Between February and April 2014, three other Catholic priests were arrested in the state of Kerala on charges of raping minors.[74][75]


Ireland (Republic)

In the Republic of Ireland, starting in the 1990s, a series of criminal cases and government enquiries related to allegations that priests had abused hundreds of minors over previous decades. State-ordered investigations documented "tens of thousands of children from the 1940s to the 1990s" who suffered abuse, including sexual abuse at the hands of priests, nuns, and church staff in three diocese.[76]

In many cases senior clergy had moved priests accused of abuse to other parishes. By 2010, a number of in-depth judicial reports had been published, but with relatively few prosecutions. The abuse was occasionally made known to staff at the Department of Education, the police, and other government bodies. They have said that prosecuting clergy was extremely difficult given the "Catholic ethos" of the Irish Republic. In addition, in 2004 the Christian Brothers had sued for a civil settlement that barred prosecution of any of its members or the naming of any Christian Brother in the government investigatory report. Christian Brothers had a higher number of allegations made against their order than were made against others. Neither were any victims named in the report.

In 1994, Micheal Ledwith resigned as President of St Patrick's College, Maynooth when allegations of sexual abuse by him were made public. The June 2005 McCullough Report found that a number of bishops had rejected concerns about Ledwith's inappropriate behavior towards seminarians "so completely and so abruptly without any adequate investigation", although his report conceded that "to investigate in any very full or substantial manner, a generic complaint regarding a person's apparent propensities would have been difficult".[77]

Fr Brendan Smyth was reported to have sexually abused and indecently assaulted 20 children in parishes in Belfast, Dublin and the United States, during the period between 1945 and 1989.[78] Controversy over the handling of his extradition to Northern Ireland led to the 1994 collapse of the Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition government.[79]

Six reports by the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church have up until 2011 established that six Irish priests were convicted between 1975 and 2011. [80][81]

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and politically independent of the Republic of Ireland), the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry started in January 2014. It was the largest inquiry in UK legal history into sexual and physical abuse in certain institutions (including non-Catholic ones) that were in charge of children from 1922 to 1995. The De La Salle Brothers and the Sisters of Nazareth admitted early in the inquiry to physical and sexual abuse of children in institutions in Northern Ireland that they controlled, and issued an apology to victims.[82][83]


After revelations by Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen, the Catholic Church in Norway and the Vatican acknowledged in 2010 that Georg Müller had resigned in July 2009 from the position of Bishop of Trondheim which he held from 1997, because of the discovery of his abuse of an altar boy two decades earlier. The Vatican cited Canon (Church) law 401/2 but as is customary gave no details. The Norwegian Catholic Church was made aware of the incident at the time but did not alert the authorities. Norwegian law did not allow a criminal prosecution of Müller so long after the event.[84]


During 2013 the public in this deeply Catholic country became concerned about reports of child sex abuse scandals within the church, some of which reached the courts, and the poor response by the church. The church resisted demands to pay compensation to victims.[85][86] In October 2013 the Catholic Church in Poland explicitly refused to publish data on sexual abuse, but said that, if the data were to be published, the scale would be seen to be very low.[87] Bishop Antoni Dydycz said that priests should not be pressed to report sexual abuse to state authorities, invoking the ecclesiastical "seal of confession," which bans them from revealing what is said in the rite of confession.[88] In November 2013 the Minister of Justice said that there were 1,454 persons in prison for acts of pedophilia, of whom one was a Catholic priest.[89]

United States

In the United States, which has been the focus of many of the scandals and subsequent reforms,[90], an "online archive established by lay Catholics," reports that over 3,000 civil lawsuits have been filed against the church,[91] some of these cases have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements with many claimants. In 1998 the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas paid $30.9 million to twelve victims of one priest ($44.9 million in present-day terms).[92][93] From 2003 to 2009 nine other major settlements, involving over 375 cases with 1551 claimants/victims, resulted in payments of over US$1.1 billion.[note 2] The Associated Press estimated the settlements of sex abuse cases from 1950 to 2007 totaled more than $2 billion.[94] BishopAccountability puts the figure at more than $3 billion in 2012.[52][91] Addressing "a flood of abuse claims" five dioceses (Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Davenport, Iowa, and San Diego) got bankruptcy protection.[94] Eight Catholic dioceses have declared bankruptcy due to sex abuse cases from 2004 to 2011.[95]

Although bishops had been sending sexually abusive priests to facilities such as those operated by the Servants of the Paraclete since the 1950s, there was scant public discussion of the problem until the mid-1960s. Even then, most of the discussion was held amongst the Catholic hierarchy with little or no coverage in the media. A public discussion of sexual abuse of minors by priests took place at a meeting sponsored by the National Association for Pastoral Renewal held on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in 1967, to which all U.S. Catholic bishops were invited.

Various local and regional discussions of the problem were held by Catholic bishops in later years. However, it was not until the 1980s that discussion of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clerics began to be covered as a phenomenon in the news media of the United States. According to the Catholic News Service, public awareness of the sexual abuse of children in the United States and Canada emerged in the late 1970s and the 1980s as an outgrowth of the growing awareness of physical abuse of children in society.

In September 1983, the National Catholic Reporter published an article on the topic.[96] The subject gained wider national notoriety in October 1985 when Louisiana priest Gilbert Gauthe pleaded guilty to 11 counts of molestation of boys.[97] After the coverage of Gauthe's crimes subsided, the issue faded to the fringes of public attention until the mid-1990s, when the issue was again brought to national attention after a number of books on the topic were published.[98]

In early 2002 the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of sexual abuse cases involving Catholic priests drew the attention, first of the United States and ultimately the world, to the problem.[99][100][101] Other victims began to come forward with their own allegations of abuse, resulting in more lawsuits and criminal cases.[102] Since then, the problem of clerical abuse of minors has received significantly more attention from the Church hierarchy, law enforcement agencies, government and the news media.

In 2003 Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee authorized payments of as much as US$20,000 to sexually abusive priests to convince them to leave the priesthood.[103]

As recently as 2011 Fr Curtis Wehmeyer was allowed to work as a priest in Minnesota despite many people having reported concern about his sexual compulsion and suspicious behavior with boys. Wehmeyer was employed as a priest without proper background checks. Wehmeyer was later convicted of sexually abusing two boys. After Wehmeyer's arrest there were complaints the responsible clergy were more concerned with how to spin the story in a favorable light than in helping victims.[104]

Jay Report

In the United States the 2004 John Jay Report, commissioned from John Jay College and funded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), was based on volunteer surveys completed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. The 2004 John Jay Report was based on a study of 10,667 allegations against 4,392 priests accused of engaging in sexual abuse of a minor between 1950 and 2002.[105]

The surveys filtered provided information from diocesan files on each priest accused of sexual abuse and on each of the priest's victims to the research team, in a format which did not disclose the names of the accused priests or the dioceses where they worked. The dioceses were encouraged to issue reports of their own based on the surveys that they had completed.

The report stated there were approximately 10,667 reported victims (younger than 18 years) of clergy sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002:

The 4,392 priests who were accused amount to approximately 4% of the 109,694 priests in active ministry during that time. Of these 4,392, approximately:

Many of the reported acts of sexual abuse involved fondling or unspecified abuse. There was also a number of allegations of forced acts of oral sex and intercourse. Detailed information on the nature of the abuse was not reported for 26.6% of the reported allegations. 27.3% of the allegations involved the cleric performing oral sex on the victim. 25.1% of the allegations involved penile penetration or attempted penetration.

Although there were reported acts of sexual abuse of minors in every year, the incidence of reported abuse increased by several orders of magnitude in the 1960s and 1970s. There was, for example, a more than sixfold increase in the number of reported acts of abuse of males aged 11 to 17 between the 1950s and the 1970s. After peaking in the 1970s, the number of incidents in the report decreased through the 1980s and 1990s even more sharply than the incidence rate had increased in the 1960s and 1970s. Contributing factors to the abuse are considered to be "poor screening and training of priests."

Lawsuits and their effects

The Associated Press estimated the settlements of sex abuse cases from 1950 to 2007 totaled more than $2 billion.[94] BishopAccountability puts the figure at more than $3 billion in 2012.[52][91]

United States, an "online archive established by lay Catholics," reports that over 3,000 "civil lawsuits have been filed against the church" in the United States, some of these cases have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements with many claimants.[91]

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas paid $30.9 million in 1998 to twelve victims of one priest.[92] In July 2003 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville paid $25.7 million to "settle child sexual-abuse allegations made in 240 lawsuits naming 34 priests and other church workers."[92]

In 2003 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston also settled a large case for $85 million with 552 alleged victims.[110]

In 2004, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange settled nearly 90 cases for $100 million.[111]

In April 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon agreed to a $75 million settlement with 177 claimants and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle agreed to a $48 million settlement with more than 160 victims.[112]

In July 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a $660 million agreement with more than 500 alleged victims, in December 2006, the archdiocese had a settlement of 45 lawsuits for $60 million.[94][113]

In September 2007 the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego reached a $198.1 million "agreement with 144 childhood sexual abuse victims."[114]

In July 2008 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver agreed "to pay $5.5 million to settle 18 claims of childhood sexual abuse."[115] The Associated Press estimated that the total from settlements of sex abuse cases from 1950 to 2007 to be more than $2 billion.[94] According to BishopAccountability reports that figure reached more than $3 billion in 2012.[52][91]

Most sex abuse cases are subject to the laws of each individual state. As of April 2010 many sex abusers associated with the Church in several countries have been tried by secular authorities and some have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment.

Addressing "a flood of abuse claims" five dioceses (Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon.; Davenport, Iowa, and San Diego) got bankruptcy protection.[94] Eight Catholic diocese have declared bankruptcy due to sex abuse cases from 2004 to 2011.[95]

According to Donald Cozzens, "by the end of the mid 1990s, it was estimated that [...] more than half a billion dollars had been paid in jury awards, settlements and legal fees." This figure grew to about one billion dollars by 2002.[116] Roman Catholics spent $615 million on sex abuse cases in 2007.[117]

As of March 2006, dioceses in which abuse was committed or in which abuse allegations were settled out of court had made financial settlements with the victims totaling over $1.5 billion.[107] The number and size of these settlements made it necessary for the dioceses to reduce their ordinary operating expenses by closing churches and schools in order to raise the funds to make these payments.[102] Several dioceses chose to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a way to litigate settlements while protecting some church assets to ensure it continues to operate.

By 2009, U.S. dioceses have paid more than US$2.6 billion in abuse-related costs since 1950.[118][119]

In many instances, dioceses were forced to declare bankruptcy as a result of the settlements. At least six U.S. dioceses sought bankruptcy protection. In some cases, the dioceses filed bankruptcy just before civil suits against them were about to go to trial. This had the effect of mandating that pending and future lawsuits be settled in bankruptcy court. The sexual abuse scandal costs each of the 195 dioceses "an average of $300,000 annually."[120]

Resignations, retirements, and laicizations

Some of the accused priests were forced to resign. Some priests whose crimes fell within statutes of limitation are in jail. Some have been laicized. Others — because they are elderly, because of the nature of their offenses, or because they have had some success fighting the charges — cannot be laicized under canon law. Some priests live in retreat houses that are carefully monitored and sometimes locked.[121]

Bernard Francis Law, Cardinal and Archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts, United States, resigned after Church documents were revealed which suggested he had covered up sexual abuse committed by priests in his archdiocese.[122] On 13 December 2002, Pope John Paul II accepted Law's resignation as Archbishop and reassigned him to an administrative position in the Roman Curia, naming him archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and he later presided at one of the Pope's funeral masses. Law's successor in Boston, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Seán P. O'Malley, found it necessary to sell substantial real estate properties and close a number of churches in order to pay the $120 million in claims against the archdiocese.

Two bishops of Palm Beach, Florida, resigned due to child abuse allegations. Resigned bishop Joseph Keith Symons was replaced by Anthony O'Connell, who later also resigned in 2002.

Irish government responses

In an address before the Irish parliament on 11 May 1999, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced a comprehensive program to respond to the scandal of abuse in the nation's Catholic-run childcare institutions. Ahern's speech included the first official apology to those who had been abused physically and sexually while they had been in the care of these institutions. The Taoiseach asked the abuse victims for forgiveness, saying: "On behalf of the State and of all citizens of the State, the Government wishes to make a sincere and long overdue apology to the victims of childhood abuse for our collective failure to intervene, to detect their pain, to come to their rescue."[79]

In response to the furor aroused by the media reports of abuse in Irish government institutions run by religious orders, the Irish government commissioned a study which took nine years to complete. On 20 May 2009, the commission released its 2600-page report, which drew on testimony from thousands of former residents and officials from more than 250 institutions. The commission found that there were thousands of allegations of physical abuse of children of both sexes over a period of six decades. Over the same period, around 370 former child residents alleged they had suffered various forms of sexual abuse from religious figures and others.[123][124] The report revealed that government inspectors had failed in their responsibility to detect and stop the abuse. The report characterized sexual molestation as "endemic" in some church-run industrial schools and orphanages for boys.[125]

In the wake of the broadcast of a BBC Television documentary, Suing the Pope, which highlighted the case of Seán Fortune, one of the most notorious clerical sexual offenders, the Irish government initiated an official inquiry into the allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the Irish Roman Catholic Diocese of Ferns.[126] The inquiry resulted in the publication of the Ferns Report in 2005.

In response to the Ferns Report, Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen stated that he was "ashamed by the extent, length, and cruelty" of child abuse, apologized to victims for the government's failure to intervene in endemic sexual abuse and severe beatings in schools for much of the 20th century. Cowen also promised to reform the Ireland's social services for children in line with the recommendations of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse report.[127] Irish President Mary McAleese and Cowen made further motions to start criminal investigation against members of Roman Catholic religious orders in Ireland.[128]

In November 2009, Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse reported its findings in which it concluded that:

"the Dublin Archdiocese's pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State".[129]

In 2009, The Murphy Report is the result of a three-year public inquiry conducted by Irish government into the Sexual abuse scandal in Dublin archdiocese, released a few months after the report of the Ryan report. The Murphy report stated that, "The Commission has no doubt that clerical child sexual abuse was covered up by the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Church authorities". It found that, "The structures and rules of the Catholic Church facilitated that cover-up." Moreover, the report asserted that, "State authorities facilitated that cover-up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all and allowing the Church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes." The report criticized four archbishops – John Charles McQuaid who died in 1973, Dermot Ryan who died in 1984, Kevin McNamara who died in 1987, and retired Cardinal Desmond Connell – for not giving allegations and information on abusers to legal authorities.[130]

Church responses

The responses of the Catholic Church to the sex abuse cases can be viewed on three levels: the diocesan level, the episcopal conference level, and the Vatican. Responses to the scandal proceeded at levels in parallel, with the higher levels becoming progressively more involved as the gravity of the problem became more apparent. For the most part, responding to allegations of sexual abuse in a diocese was left to the jurisdiction of the local bishop or archbishop. According to Thomas Plante, a psychiatrist specializing in abuse counseling and considered an expert on clerical abuse, "unlike most large organizations that maintain a variety of middle management positions, the organizational structure of the Catholic Church is a fairly flat structure. Therefore, prior to the Church clergy abuse crisis in 2002, each bishop decided for himself how to manage these cases and the allegations of child sexual abuse by priests. Some have handled these matters very poorly (as evidenced in Boston) while others have handled these issues very well."[40]

After the number of allegations exploded following the Boston Globe's series of articles, the breadth and depth of the scandals became apparent in dioceses across the United States. The U.S. bishops felt compelled to formulate a coordinated response at the episcopal conference level. Although the Vatican did not respond immediately to the series of articles published by the Boston Globe in 2002, it has been reported that Vatican officials were, in fact, monitoring the situation in the U.S. closely.[131]

John L. Allen, Jr., senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, characterized the reaction of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as calling for "swift, sure and final punishment for priests who are guilty of this kind of misconduct."[131] In contrast to this, Allen characterized the Vatican's primary concern as wanting to make sure "that everyone's rights are respected, including the rights of accused clergy" and wanting to affirm that it is not acceptable to "remedy the injustice of sexual abuse with the injustice of railroading priests who may or may not be guilty."[131]

Diocesan responses

United States

According to the John Jay Report one in four child sex abuse allegations were made within 10 years of the incident.[132] Half were made between 10 and 30 years after the incident and the remaining 25% were reported more than 30 years after the incident.[132]

Rehabilitation efforts

Since 2002, a major focus of the lawsuits and media attention has been criticism of the approach taken by bishops when dealing with allegations of sexual abuse by priests. As a general rule, the allegations were not reported to legal authority for investigation and prosecution. Instead, many dioceses directed the offending priests to seek psychiatric treatment and for assessment of the risk of re-offending. In 2004, according to the John Jay report, nearly 40% of accused priests participated in psychiatric treatment programs. The remaining priests did not undergo abuse counseling because allegations of sexual abuse were only made after their death. The more allegations made against a priest, the more likely he was to participate in treatment.[107]

Some bishops repeatedly moved offending priests from parish to parish after abuse counseling, where they still had personal contact with children.[6] In response to these allegations, defenders of the Church's actions have suggested that in reassigning priests after treatment, bishops were acting on the best medical advice then available. According to the USCCB, Catholic bishops in the 1950s and 1960s viewed sexual abuse by priests as "a spiritual problem, one requiring a spiritual solution, i.e. prayer".[133]

However, starting in the 1960s, the bishops came to adopt an emerging view based on the advice of medical personnel who recommended psychiatric and psychological treatment for those who sexually abused minors. This view asserted that with treatment priests who had molested children could safely be placed back into ministry, although perhaps with certain restrictions such as not being in contact with children.[134] This approach viewed pedophilia as an addiction, such as alcoholism which can be treated and restrained.[133]

Some of the North American treatment facilities most frequently used for this purpose included the Saint Luke Institute in Maryland; centers operated by the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, and St. Louis, Missouri; John Vianney Center in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.; the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut; and the Southdown Institute near Toronto, Ontario in Canada.[135] This approach continued into the mid-1980s, a period which the USCCB characterizes as the "tipping point in the understanding of the problem within the church and in society".[133] According to researcher Paul Isley, however, research on priest offenders is virtually nonexistent and the claims of unprecedented treatment success with clergy offenders have not been supported by published data.[136]

Prevention efforts

The USCCB perceived a lack of adequate procedures for the prevention of sexual abuse of minors, the reporting of allegations of such abuse and the handling of those reports. In response to deficiencies in canonical and secular law, both ecclesiastical and civil authorities have implemented procedures and laws to prevent sexual abuse of minors by clergy and to report and punish it if and when it occurs. In June 2002, the USCCB adopted a zero tolerance for responding to allegations of sexual abuse.[137] It promulgated a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that pledged the Catholic Church in the U.S. to providing a "safe environment" for all children in Church-sponsored activities.[137]

The Charter instituted reforms to prevent future abuse by requiring background checks for Church employees.[138] The Charter requires dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty.[138] A Dallas Morning News article reported nearly two-thirds of the bishops attending the conference had covered for sexually abusive priests.[139] According to Catholic News Service by 2008, the U.S. church had trained "5.8 million children to recognize and report abuse," run criminal checks on volunteers and employees and trained them to create a safe environment for children.[140]

Reception by the laity

A 2006 study by Jesuit Georgetown University Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found lay Catholics were unaware of the specific steps that the church has decided to take, but 78% strongly approved reporting allegations of sexual abuse to civil authorities and 76% strongly approved of removing people credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.[141][142][143]

Ongoing investigations

In 2005, Kathleen McChesney of the USCCB said "In 2004, at least 1,092 allegations of sexual abuse were made against at least 756 Catholic priests and deacons in the United States. [ ... ] What is over is the denial that this problem exists, and what is over is the reluctance of the Church to deal openly with the public about the nature and extent of the problem."[144]

In early 2009, the sexual impropriety including molesting boys by Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legion of Christ, a Roman Catholic congregation of pontifical right made up of priests and seminarians studying for the priesthood, was disclosed publicly.[145][146][147] In March, the Vatican ordered an apostolic visitation of the sexual abuse scandal in the Legion of Christ.[148] In June 2009 Vatican authorities named five bishops from five different countries, each one in charge of investigating the Legionaries in a particular part of the world.[149]


In June 2001, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Ireland established the Catholic Church Commission on Child Sexual Abuse (Ireland), also known as the Hussey Commission, to investigate how complaints about clerical abuse of minors have been handled over the last three decades.

In February 2002, 18 religious orders agreed to provide more than 128 million Euros (approximately $128 million) in compensation to the victims of childhood abuse. Most of the money was raised from church property transfers to the State; in fact the actual value of the settlement is estimated to be about half that, and the Archbisop of Dublin in 2009 accused the orders of falling short even on the amount promised, and said the church's failure to complete transfers of cash, property and land worth at least €128 million over the past seven years "is stunning".[150]

The agreement also stipulated that any victims who accepted monetary settlements would waive their right to sue both the church and the government,[151] and that the identities of the accused abusers was to be kept secret.[150] In 2009 the orders agreed to increase their contribution; it was learned that total compensation paid to victims was about €1.2 billion, so that until then the promised €128 m had been about 10% of the total.[151]

In September 2010 the Vatican announced that it would shortly begin an investigation into how the Irish Catholic Establishment's handling of the sex abuse and subsequent scandal. This enquiry will include consulting groups representing victims. Co founder of Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (Soca), stated that "Irish Soca and other survivors' groups are excited over the apostolic visitation because it's the end of allowing the Irish hierarchy to handle the scandal and crises on their own."[152]


When sexual scandals involving Catholic priests in the US came to light in 2002, the Philippines media began reporting on abuses by local priests. In July of that year, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines apologized for sexual misconduct committed by its priests over the last two decades and committed to drafting guidelines on how to deal with allegations of such offenses. According to Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference, about 200 of the country's 7,000 priests may have committed "sexual misconduct" – including child abuse, homosexuality and affairs – over the past two decades.[153]

In August 2011, activist women's group "Gabriela" assisted a 17-year-old girl in filing sexual abuse allegations against a priest in Butuan province. The bishop of Butuan, Juan de Dios Pueblos, took the priest under his custody without handing him over to civil and church authorities.[154] This behaviour was also heavily criticized by retired Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz, who blamed Pueblos for showing his priests the "wrong way".[155]

Episcopal responses

United States

In June 2002, the USCCB established the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People", a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The charter includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse.[138] It also directs action in the following matters:

In other words, the US National Review Board now requires dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty.[157]

The Board also approached John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct a descriptive study of the nature and scope of the problem of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The College assembled an experienced team of researchers with expertise in the areas of forensic psychology, criminology, and human behavior, and, working with the Board, formulated a methodology to address the study mandate. Data collection commenced in March 2003, and ended in February 2004.[158]

United Kingdom

The 2001 Lord Nolan recommendations, accepted in full by the bishops, became model guidelines for other bishops' conferences around the world, and a model for other institutions in Britain.[159] One guideline was that in each parish there should be a "safeguarding officer", a lay person who would vet through the Criminal Records Bureau, a government agency, anyone in the parish who had access to young people or vulnerable adults, and would be a contact for anyone with any concerns.[159]

Vatican responses

John L. Allen, Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, commented that many American Catholics saw the Vatican's initial silence on the Boston Globe stories as showing a lack of concern or awareness about the issue. However, Allen said that he didn't know anyone in the Roman Curia who was not at least horrified "by the revelations that came out of the Globe and elsewhere" or who would defend "Cardinal Law's handling of the cases in Boston" or "the rather shocking lack of oversight that revealed itself" though "they might have different analyses of what should have happened to him".[131] Allen described the Vatican's perspective as being somewhat skeptical of the media handling of the scandal. In addition, he asserted that the Vatican viewed American cultural attitudes toward sexuality as being somewhat hysterical as well as exhibiting a lack of understanding of the Catholic Church.[131]

No one [in the Vatican] thinks the sexual abuse of kids is unique to the States, but they do think that the reporting on it is uniquely American, fueled by anti-Catholicism and shyster lawyers hustling to tap the deep pockets of the church. And that thinking is tied to the larger perception about American culture, which is that there is a hysteria when it comes to anything sexual, and an incomprehension of the Catholic Church. What that means is that Vatican officials are slower to make the kinds of public statements that most American Catholics want, and when they do make them they are tentative and halfhearted. It's not that they don't feel bad for the victims, but they think the clamor for them to apologize is fed by other factors that they don't want to capitulate to.

According to Allen, cultural differences between the Vatican and American Catholics complicated the process of formulating a comprehensive response to the sexual abuse scandal: "there is a lot about the American culture and the American Church that puzzles people in the Vatican, and there is much about the Vatican that puzzles Americans and English speakers generally."[131]


Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, sent a letter which became known as the Crimen sollicitationis. In this letter, addressed to "all Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops and other Local Ordinaries, including those of Eastern Rite", the Holy Office laid down procedures to be followed in dealing with cases of clerics (priests or bishops) of the Catholic Church accused of having used the sacrament of Penance to make sexual advances to penitents; its rules were more specific than the generic ones in the Code of Canon Law.[160]

In addition, it instructed that the same procedures be used when dealing with denunciations of homosexual, paedophile or zoophile behaviour by clerics. It repeated the rule that any Catholic who failed for over a month to denounce a priest who had made such advances in connection with confession was automatically excommunicated and could be absolved only after actually denouncing the priest to the Ordinary of the place or to the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office, or at least promising seriously to do so.[161]


The Vatican promulgated a revised Code of Canon Law which included a canon (1395, §2) which explicitly named sex with a minor by clerics as a canonical crime "to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants."[162] According to De delictis gravioribus, the letter sent in May 2001 by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict XVI) – Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and according to Father Thomas Patrick Doyle, who has served as an expert witness on Pontifical Canon Law, Crimen Sollicitationis was in force until May 2001. [163][164][165][166]


In April, Pope John Paul II issued a letter stating that "a sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue by a cleric with a minor under 18 years of age is to be considered a grave sin, or 'delictum gravius.'"[141] In the letter, Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (Safeguarding the Sanctity of the Sacraments), "§1 Reservation to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is also extended to a delict against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue committed by a cleric with a minor below the age of eighteen years. §2 One who has perpetrated the delict mentioned in §1 is to be punished according to the gravity of the offense, not excluding dismissal or deposition."[167] In other words, the CDF was given a broader mandate to address the sex abuse cases only from 2001[168] – prior to that date, the 1917 Code of Canon Law permitted sexual abuse cases by the clergy to be handled by the Congregation, for the Congregation to open cases itself, or for the Ordinary to handle judgement.[169] All priestly sex crimes cases were placed under the CDF which, in the majority of cases, then recommended immediate action.[170]

The "Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations" explain briefly the procedures which have been derived from the 1983 Code of Canon Law and put in place since 30 April (the same day).[171][172] Among the points made:

In May, in line with the 1983 Code of Canon Law and the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, a letter from the CDF was sent to the Catholic bishops.[173]


The Vatican instituted reforms to prevent future United States abuse by requiring background checks for all church employees who have contact with children.[138] Since then, in the US, over 2 million volunteers and employees; 52,000 clerics; 6,205 candidates for ordination have had their backgrounds evaluated.[156]

In June, the USCCB established the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People", a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. (More details in the Episcopal Responses section above.)


Pope John Paul II stated that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young".[174]

In April, the Pontifical Academy for Life organized a three-day conference, entitled "Abuse of Children and Young People by Catholic Priests and Religious", where eight non-Catholic psychiatric experts were invited to speak to near all Vatican dicasteries' representatives. The panel of experts overwhelmingly opposed implementation of policies of "zero-tolerance" such as was proposed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. One expert called such policies a "case of overkill" since they do not permit flexibility to allow for differences among individual cases.[141]


In June, Louisville, Kentucky lawyer William McMurry filed suit against the Vatican[175] on behalf of three men alleging abuse as far back as 1928, accusing church leaders of organizing a cover-up of cases of sexual abuse of children.


In August, Pope Benedict was personally accused in a lawsuit of conspiring to cover up the molestation of three boys in Texas by Juan Carlos Patino-Arango in Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. He sought and obtained immunity from prosecution as head of state of the Holy See.[176] The Department of State "recognize[d] and allow[ed] the immunity of Pope Benedict XVI from this suit."[177] See pope#International position for information on head-of-state immunity of a pope.

In November, the Vatican published Criteria for the Discernment of Vocation for Persons with Homosexual Tendencies, issuing new rules which forbid ordination of men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies." While the preparation for this document had started ten years before its publication,[178] this instruction is seen as an official answer by the Catholic Church to what was seen as a "pedophile priest" crisis.[179] The US National Review Board cited the preponderance of adolescent males among the victims of clerical sexual abuse of minors in its report.[180] The document was criticized for what some see as its implying that homosexuality is tied to the sexual abuse of children.[181]


Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, secretary of the Congregation for Clergy, put the following question to the experts: "[T]o what degree one can talk about the rehabilitation of the offender, what are the most effective methods of treatment, and on what grounds we can say that a person who has never offended is at risk to sexually molest someone?"[182]

Ternyak spoke about the way that the crisis had damaged the priest-bishop relationship. He noted that there was a "sense of gloom" felt by the overwhelming majority of priests who had not been accused of any abuse but nonetheless who perceived that their bishops had turned against them and therefore had "become disillusioned about the effectiveness of the laws of the Church to defend their dignity and their inalienable rights". Ternyak also noted that "there have been more than a few suicides among accused priests."[141]


In April, during a visit to the United States, Pope Benedict admitted that he was "deeply ashamed" of the clergy sex abuse scandal that has devastated the American church. Benedict pledged that pedophiles would not be priests in the Roman Catholic Church.[183] Pope Benedict also apologized for child abuse scandal in Australia.[184]

In November, the United States Court of Appeals in Cincinnati denied the Vatican's claim of sovereign immunity, and allowed a lawsuit against the Catholic Church government by three men who claim they were sexually abused as children by priests in the Louisville, Kentucky, US archdiocese to proceed. The Vatican did not appeal the ruling.[185][186]


Two researchers reported that abuse cases had "steeply declined" after 1985 and that responses to abuse had changed substantially over 50 years, with suspension becoming more common than reinstatement.[187]

In a statement, read by Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 22 September 2009, the Holy See stated that the majority of Catholic clergy who had committed acts of sexual abuse against under-18-year-olds should not be viewed as paedophiles, but as homosexuals who are attracted to sex with adolescent males. The statement said that rather than paedophilia, "it would be more correct to speak of ephebophilia; being a homosexual attraction to adolescent males ... Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17."[188]

However, Margaret Smith and Karen Terry, two researchers who worked on the John Jay Report, cautioned against equating the high incidence of abuse by priests against boys with homosexuality, calling it an oversimplification and "an unwarranted conclusion" to assert that the majority of priests who abused male victims are gay. Though "the majority of the abusive acts were homosexual in nature ... participation in homosexual acts is not the same as sexual identity as a gay man." She further stated that "the idea of sexual identity [should] be separated from the problem of sexual abuse... [A]t this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now."[189] Tomasi's move angered many gay rights organisations, who claimed it was an attempt by the Vatican to redefine the Church's past problems with paedophilia as problems with homosexuality.[190]

Empirical research shows that sexual orientation does not affect the likelihood that people will abuse children.[191][192][193] Many child molesters cannot be characterized as having an adult sexual orientation at all; they are fixated on children.[191]


In April 2010, in response to extensive negative publicity and criticism of the Pope, the Vatican entered what the Associated Press called "full damage control mode".[194] Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, during a visit to Chile, linked the scandal to homosexuality.[195] In response to widespread criticism of that statement, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Bertone's statement went outside the remit of church authorities, while maintaining that "the statement was aimed at 'clarifying' Cardinal Bertone's remarks and should not be seen as the Holy See 'distancing' itself from them." He also noted that 10 per cent of the cases concerned paedophilia in the "strict sense", and the other 90 per cent concerned sex between priests and adolescents.[196] Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, said the continuing criticism of Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican in handling the clerical sex abuse crisis is part of a media campaign to sell newspapers.[197] The Pope issued a statement that the "Church must do penance for abuse cases".[198]

Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna explained in an interview with the Italian newspaper "Avvenire":[167][168] "Between 1975 and 1985 I do not believe that any cases of pedophilia committed by priests were brought to the attention of our Congregation. Moreover, following the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there was a period of uncertainty as to which of the "delicta graviora" were reserved to the competency of this dicastery. Only with the 2001 "Motu Proprio" did the crime of pedophilia again become our exclusive remit... In the years (2001–2010) the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) had "considered accusations concerning around three thousand cases of diocesan and religious priests, which refer to crimes committed over the last fifty years."[167][168]

Pope Benedict issued an apology to those who had suffered from child abuse in Ireland in March 2010.[199] The letter stated that the Pope was "truly sorry" for what they had suffered, and that "nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity violated."[200] Nevertheless, the letter was not enough to satisfy many critics, who felt that the letter failed to address their concerns, and mistakenly presented the abuse as an issue within the Church in Ireland, rather than acknowledging that it was a systemic problem.[199][201]

In July 2010 the Vatican issued a document to clarify their position. They doubled the length of time after the 18th birthday of the victim that clergymen can be tried in a church court and to streamline the processes for removing pedophile priests.[35][36][37] However, the new rules were less strict than those already in place in the United States and lacked the clarity that pedophilia is a civil offense of the existing rules there.[36][202]


In May, the Vatican published new guidelines, drawn up by Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, on dealing with the clergy sexual abuse cases.[203] The guidelines tell the bishops and heads of Catholic religious orders worldwide to develop "clear and coordinated" procedures for dealing with the sexual abuse allegation by May 2012.[204] The guidelines instruct the bishops to cooperate with the police and respect the relevant local laws in investigating and reporting allegations of sexual abuse by the clergy to the civic authorities, but do not make such reporting mandatory. The guidelines also reinforce bishops' exclusive authority in dealing with abuse cases. Victims advocacy groups criticized the new guidelines as insufficient, arguing that the recommendations do not have the status of church law and do not provide any specific enforcement mechanisms.[205][206]


The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (Italian: Pontificia Commissione per la Tutela dei Minori) was instituted by Pope Francis on 22 March 2014 for the safeguarding of minors.[207] It is headed by Boston's cardinal archbishop, Sean P. O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap..

In November 2014, Pope Francis laicized and excommunicated pedophile priest Father Jose Mercau of Argentina.[208][209]

Criticisms of church responses

While the church in the United States claims to have addressed the issue, some disagree. Mark Honigsbaum of The Guardian wrote in 2006 that, "despite the National Review Board's own estimates that there have been some 5,000 abusive priests in the US, to date 150 have been successfully prosecuted." Some critics of the church, such as Patrick Wall, attribute this to a lack of cooperation from the church. In California, for example, the archdiocese has sought to block the disclosure of confidential counseling records on two priests, arguing that such action would violate their First Amendment right on religious protection.[210] Paul Lakeland claims Church leaders who enabled abuse were too frequently careless about their own accountability and the accountability of perpetrators.[211]

In 2010, the BBC reported that the latest research by experts indicate that Catholic priests may be no more likely than others to abuse. However, a major cause of the scandal was the cover-ups and other alleged shortcomings in the way the church hierarchy has dealt with the abuses.[12] Particularly, the actions of Catholic bishops in responding to allegations of clerical abuse were harshly criticized.[212]

In September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI lamented that the Roman Catholic Church had not been vigilant enough or quick enough in responding to the problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.[213] Pope Benedict laicized 400 priests for abuses in two years of his papacy. A representative of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a group representing abuse victims, criticized the pope's remarks as "disingenuous" because, in her opinion, the church had in fact been "prompt and vigilant" in concealing the scandal.[213] After Benedict's resignation in 2013, he was criticised by SNAP for allegedly protecting the church's reputation "over the safety of children." Representatives from the Center for Constitutional Rights (at the time engaged in an International Criminal Court case against Pope Benedict in which they were acting for SNAP), alleged that Pope Benedict had been directly involved in covering up some of the crimes.[214]

For non-removal

Rome, 2007. March organized by Facciamo Breccia against the interference of the Catholic Church in Italian Politics. The board says: If playing the inquisitor matters so much to Pope Ratzinger, why doesn't he care for paedophile priests?

The Catholic hierarchy has been criticized for not acting more quickly and decisively to remove, laicize and report priests accused of sexual misconduct. Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said: "We have said repeatedly that ... our understanding of this problem and the way it's dealt with today evolved, and that in those years ago, decades ago, people didn't realize how serious this was, and so, rather than pulling people out of ministry directly and fully, they were moved."[215]

One early opponent of the treatment of sexually abusive priests was Father Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of The Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete. Although Fitzgerald started the Servants of the Paraclete to assist priests who were struggling with alcohol and substance abuse problems, he soon began receiving priests who had sexually abused minors. Initially, Fitzgerald attempted to treat such priests using the same spiritual methods that he used with his other "guests". However, as he grew convinced of the futility of treating sexually abusive priests, Fitzgerald came to oppose vehemently the return of sexual abusers to duties as parish priests. He wrote regularly to bishops in the United States and to Vatican officials, including the pope, of his opinion that many sexual abusers in the priesthood could not be cured and should be laicied immediately.[216]

Eventually, Fitzgerald lost control of the Servants of the Paraclete. The center began to employ medical and psychological professionals who added psychiatry and medical treatment to the spiritual regimen of treatment favored by Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald continued to oppose these modifications to his treatment regimen until his death in 1969.[216]

Bishop Manuel D. Moreno of Tucson, Arizona, USA repeatedly attempted to have two local abusive priests laicized and disciplined, pleading unsuccessfully in a letter of April 1997 with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to have one laicized; he was first suspended in 1990 and convicted by the church in 1997 of five crimes, including sexual solicitation in the confessional. The two were finally laicized in 2004.[217] Bishop Moreno had been strongly criticized for failing to take action until details of his efforts became public.

In a New York Times article, Bishop Blase J. Cupich, chairman of the United States Bishops Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, is quoted explaining why Father Fitzgerald's advice "went largely unheeded for 50 years": First, "cases of sexually abusive priests were considered to be rare." Second, Father Fitzgerald's, "views, by and large, were considered bizarre with regard to not treating people medically, but only spiritually, and also segregating a whole population with sexual problems on a deserted island." And finally, "There was mounting evidence in the world of psychology that indicated that when medical treatment is given, these people can, in fact, go back to ministry." This was a view which Cupich characterized as one that "the bishops came to regret."[216]

In 2010 several secular and liberal Catholics were calling for Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, citing the actions of then Cardinal Ratzinger's blocking of efforts to remove a priest convicted of child abuse.[218] The pope did eventually resign in 2013, although he said that he did so because of his declining health.[219]

In 2012, Monsignor William Lynn became the first United States church official to be convicted of child endangerment because of his part in covering up child sex abuse allegations by clergy. Lynn was responsible for making recommendations as to the assignment of clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He was found guilty of one count of endangering the welfare of a child.[220][221][222] On 24 July 2012, Lynn was sentenced to three to six years in prison.[223]

For secrecy among bishops

As reported by the Boston Globe, some bishops had facilitated compensation payments to victims on condition that the allegations remained secret.[224] For example, according to the Boston Globe, the Archdiocese of Boston secretly settled child sexual abuse claims against at least 70 priests from 1992 to 2002.[224]

In November 2009, the Irish Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse reported its findings in which it concluded that:

"the Dublin Archdiocese's pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State".[129]

In April 2010, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins wanted to prosecute the Pope for crimes against humanity due to what they see as his role in intentionally covering up abuse by priests.[225][226] In a CNN interview a few days later, however, Dawkins declined to discuss the international crime law courts definition of crimes against humanity, saying it is a difficult legal question.[227] In April 2010, a lawsuit was filed in the Milwaukee Federal Court by an anonymous "John Doe 16" against the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI. The plaintiff accused Ratzinger and others of having covered up abuse cases to avoid scandal to the detriment of the concerned children.[228] In February 2011, two German lawyers initiated charges against Pope Benedict XVI at the International Criminal Court. As one of the reasons for the charges they referred also to the "strong suspicion" that Joseph Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, covered up the sexual abuse of children and youths and protected the perpetrators.[229]

Internal division became public, with Christoph Cardinal Schönborn accusing Cardinal Angelo Sodano of blocking Ratzinger's investigation of a high-profile case in the mid 1990s.[230]

In the trial of the French bishop Pierre Pican, who received a suspended jail sentence for failing to denounce an abusive priest, the retired Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos wrote a letter to support Pican in his decision. Exposed to heavy critiques, Hoyos claimed to have had the approval of Pope John Paul II.[231][232]

In 2011 Hoyos was heavily criticized again. This time the Congregation for the Clergy was blamed of having opposed in 1997 to the newly adapted rules of the Irish bishops, demanding the denouncement of every abusive priest to the police. The Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin described the cooperation with the Congregation for the Clergy as "disastrous".[233]

For Vatican statements denying canonical competence

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A Vatican spokesman stated, "When individual institutions of national churches are implicated, that does not regard the competence of the Holy See...The competence of the Holy See is at the level of the Holy See."[234]

Citing canons 331 and 333 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, James Carroll of The Boston Globe asserted that "On the question of how far papal authority extends, the canon law of the Catholic Church could not be clearer" and alleges that the Holy See's denial of competency contravenes canon law. Canon 331 states that "The vicar of Christ.. . possesses full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely", and canon 333 states that "...By virtue of his office, the Roman pontiff not only possesses power over the universal church, but also obtains the primacy of ordinary power over all particular churches and groups of them."[234]

Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s ambassador to the U.N. stated that the Vatican was not responsible for abusive priests because "priests are citizens of their own states, and they fall under the jurisdiction of their own country" but the United Nations report differed claiming that since priests are “bound by obedience to the pope” under canon law, then the Holy See is accountable. The report also urged the Vatican to insist that priests and bishops involve the police in all abuse reports and end a “code of silence” leading to whistleblowers being “ostracized, demoted and fired.” [235]

For lack of transparency in Vatican proceedings

To place the cases under the competence of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been criticized by some as making the process more secretive and lengthening the time required to address the allegations. For example, in his biography of John Paul II, David Yallop asserts that the backlog of referrals to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for action against sexually abusive priests is so large that it takes 18 months to merely get a reply.[236]

Vatican officials have expressed concern that the church's insistence on confidentiality in its treatment of priestly sexual abuse cases was seen as a ban on reporting serious accusations to the civil authorities. Early in 2010 Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the head of the Congregation for Clergy, finally said that instances of sexual abuse by priests were "criminal facts" as well as serious sins and required co-operation with the civil justice system. Italian academic Lucetta Scaraffia described the conspiracy involved in hiding the offence as omerta, the Mafia code of silence, and said that "We can hypothesise that a greater female presence, not at a subordinate level, would have been able to rip the veil of masculine secrecy that in the past often covered the denunciation of these misdeeds with silence".[237]

Some parties have interpreted the Crimen sollicitationis – a 1962 document ("Instruction") of the Holy Office (which is now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) codifying procedures to be followed in cases of priests or bishops of the Catholic Church accused of having used the sacrament of Penance to make sexual advances to penitents[238][239] – as a directive from the Vatican to keep all allegations of sexual abuse secret, leading to widespread media coverage of its contents.[240] Lawyers for some of those making abuse allegations claimed that the document demonstrated a systematic conspiracy to conceal such crimes.[241] The Vatican responded that the document was not only widely misinterpreted, but moreover had been superseded by more recent guidelines in the 1960s and 1970s, and especially the 1983 Code of Canon Law.[242]

For failure to prevent further abuse

It is easy to think that when we talk about the crisis of child rape and abuse that we are talking about the past – and the Catholic Church would have us believe that this most tragic era in church history is over. It is not. It lives on today. Pedophiles are still in the priesthood. Coverups of their crimes are happening now, and bishops in many cases are continuing to refuse to turn information over to the criminal justice system. Cases are stalled and cannot go forward because the church has such power to stop them. Children are still being harmed and victims cannot heal.
Abuse victim, Mary Dispenza[243]

Mary Dispenza states further that crimes against children took place in the past, take place now and will continue in the future unless Pope Francis and the bishops act decisively to ensure that child safety has higher priority than protecting priests and the image of the Catholic Church.[243]

United Nations

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, in early 2014, issued a report asserting that the pope and the Roman Catholic Church have not done enough and protect their reputation rather than protect children.[244] The panel of the committee wants all known or suspected child molesters removed, archives on abusers and Bishops who covered up abuse opened, and instances of abuse handed to law enforcement agencies to be investigated and prosecuted. A joint statement of the panel said,

The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators[245][246]
Due to a code of silence imposed on all members of the clergy under penalty of excommunication, cases of child sexual abuse have hardly ever been reported to the law enforcement authorities in the countries where such crimes occurred.[246]

Committee chair, Kirsten Sandberg enumerated some major findings, that pedophile priests were sent to new parishes or other countries without police being informed, that the Vatican never insisted on bishops reporting abuse to police, and that known abusers still have access to children. Barbara Blaine of SNAP said,

This report gives hope to the hundreds of thousands of deeply wounded and still suffering clergy sex abuse victims across the world. Now it's up to secular officials to follow the U.N.'s lead and step in to safeguard the vulnerable because Catholic officials are either incapable or unwilling to do so.[245]

The UN report prompted discussions of specific areas of controversy, including secrecy among bishops and Vatican statements denying responsibility which in canon law they have.

British author and Catholic social activist Paul Vallely wrote that he felt the UN report had been hurt by the Commission having gone well beyond the issue of child abuse to issues such as contraception. However, he also felt the report did bring important pressure on the Vatican on important issues like reporting cases to police.[247]

Media coverage

The media coverage of Catholic sex abuse cases is a major aspect of the academic literature surrounding the pederastic priest scandal.

In 2002 the discovery that the sex abuse by Catholic priests was widespread in the U.S. received significant media coverage. For the first 100 days the New York Times had 225 pieces, including news and commentary, and the story appeared on its front page on 26 occasions.[248]

Walter V. Robinson, an American journalist and journalism professor, led the Boston Globe's coverage of the Roman Catholic sex abuse cases, for which the newspaper won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Robinson was also a Pulitzer Prize finalist in Investigative Reporting in 2007.[249][250]

In Ireland television journalism similarly played a key role in helping public awareness of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests.[251]

A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found that 64 percent of those queried thought Catholic priests "frequently" abused children despite the fact that there is no data to support the claim at all.[16]

BBC documentary in 2006

Produced by a victim of clerical sex abuse for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2006, the documentary Sex Crimes and the Vatican included the claim that all allegations of sex abuse are to be sent to the Vatican rather than the civil authorities, and that "a secret church decree called 'Crimen sollicitationis' ... imposes the strictest oath of secrecy on the child victim, the priest dealing with the allegation, and any witnesses. Breaking that oath means instant banishment from the Catholic Church – excommunication."[252] The documentary quoted the 2005 Ferns Report: "A culture of secrecy and fear of scandal that led bishops to place the interests of the Catholic Church ahead of the safety of children".

Canon lawyer Thomas Doyle, who was included in the documentary as supporting the picture that it presented, later wrote with regard to the 1962 Crimen sollicitations and the 2001 De delictis gravioribus as well as the Church's formal investigation into charges of abuse: "There is no basis to assume that the Holy See envisioned this process to be a substitute for any secular legal process, criminal or civil. It is also incorrect to assume, as some have unfortunately done, that these two Vatican documents are proof of a conspiracy to hide sexually abusive priests or to prevent the disclosure of sexual crimes committed by clerics to secular authorities."[253][254] However, two years later in 2008 Doyle said of attempts to reform the Catholic Church that it was like "trudging through what can best be described as a swamp of toxic waste".[255]

The Church was reluctant to provide to the civil authorities information about the Church's own investigations into charges. In the BBC documentary, Rick Romley, a district attorney who initiated an investigation of the Diocese of Phoenix, stated that "the secrecy, the obstruction I saw during my investigation was unparalleled in my entire career as a was so difficult to obtain any information from the Church at all." He reported archives of documents and incriminating evidence pertaining to sex abuse that were kept from the authorities, which under the law could not be subpoenaed. "The Church fails to acknowledge such a serious problem but more than that, it is not a passiveness but an openly obstructive way of not allowing authorities to try to stop the abuse within the Church. They fought us every step of the way."[252]

Debate over causes

There have been many debates over the causes of sex abuse cases.

Seminary training

The 2004 John Jay Report, a report commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated "the problem was largely the result of poor seminary training and insufficient emotional support for men ordained in the 1940s and 1950s."[256] A report by the National Review Board issued simultaneously with the John Jay Report pointed to two major deficiencies on the part of seminaries: failure to screen candidates adequately, followed by failure to "form" these candidates appropriately for the challenges of celibacy. These themes are taken up by a recent memoir by Vincent J. Miles[257] that combines a first-hand account of his life in a minor seminary during the 1960s with a review of the scientific literature about sexually abusive behavior. Miles identifies specific aspects of seminary life that could have predisposed future priests to engage in such behavior.

Impact of psychology from previous decades

Some bishops and psychiatrists have asserted that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling.[258] Thomas Plante, a psychiatrist specializing in abuse counseling and considered an expert on clerical abuse, states "the vast majority of the research on sexual abuse of minors didn't emerge until the early 1980s. So, it appeared reasonable at the time to treat these men and then return them to their priestly duties. In hindsight, this was a tragic mistake."[39]

Robert S. Bennett, the Roman Catholic Washington attorney who headed the National Review Board's research committee, identified "too much faith in psychiatrists" as one of the key problems concerning Catholic sex abuse cases.[259] About 40% of the abusive priests had received counseling before being reassigned.[260]

Pedophilia and ephebophilia

In Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, Cimbolic & Cartor (2006) noted that because of the large share of post-pubescent male minors among cleric victims there is need to further study the differential variables related to ephebophilia (sexual interest in mid-to-late adolescents, generally ages 15 to 19)[261][262] versus pedophilia (sexual interest in prepubescent children (generally those 13 years of age or younger) offenders.[263] Cartor, Cimbolic & Tallon (2008) found that 6 percent of the cleric offenders in the John Jay Report are pedophiles, 32 percent ephebophiles, 15 percent 11 & 12 year olds only (both male and female), 20 percent indiscriminate, and 27 percent mildly indiscriminate.[264]

They also found distinct differences between the pedophile and ephebophile groups. They reported that there may be "another group of offenders who are more indiscriminate in victim choice and represent a more heterogeneous, but still a distinct offender category" and suggested further research to determine "specific variables that are unique to this group and can differentiate these offenders from pedophile and ephebophile offenders" so as to improve the identification and treatment of both offenders and victims.[264]

All victims in the John Jay report were minors. Using a non-standard definition of "pre-pubescent," the Causes and Context Study of the John Jay College estimated that only a small percentage of offender priests were true pedophiles.[265] The study classified victims as pre-pubescent if they were age 10 or younger, whereas the age bracket specified in the current guidelines issued by the American Psychiatric Association is "generally age 13 or younger." A recent book estimates that if the latter definition were used instead of the former, the percentage of victims classified as prepubescent would have been 54% rather than the 18% figure cited by the Causes and Context report, and that a higher percentage of priests would therefore have been classified as pedophiles.[257] The same book also points out that with the pending new definition of "pedohebephilic disorder" in DSM-5, an even higher percentage of victims would fall into a category consistent with their abusers having a recognized psychosexual disorder.

Statement of Pope Francis

In July 2014, Pope Francis was quoted as having said in an interview that about 8,000 Catholic clergy (2% of the total), including bishops and cardinals, were pedophiles.[266] The Vatican indicated the interview had not been recorded nor notes taken during it and that quotes may have been misattributed in a deliberate attempt to manipulate readers. They stated that Pope Francis had not indicated that any cardinal abusers remained in their position.[267][268]

Gay priests and homosexuality

According to the John-Jay-Report, 80.9% of the abuse victims in the United States were male;[109] and a study by Dr. Thomas Plante found the number may be as high as 90%.[269] A number of books, such as "The Rite of Sodomy: Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church", have argued that homosexual priests view sex with minors as a "rite of passage" for altar boys and other pre-adult males.[270] William Donohue of the Catholic League argued that the Church's pædophile problem was really a "homosexual crisis",[271] which some have dismissed as unwarranted by arguing that there's a lack of correlation between a man identifying as homosexual and any particular likelihood he will abuse children.[189] In the United States Father Cozzens quoted figures from 23 percent to 58 percent of homosexual priests, with a higher percentage among younger priests.[272] On the other hand, research on pædophilia in general shows a majority of abusers identify themselves as heterosexual,[273][274] and the Causes and Context Study of the John Jay Institute found no statistical support for linking homosexual identity and sexual abuse of minors.[265] Additionally The New York Times reported "the abuse decreased as more gay priests began serving the church."[275]

Clerical celibacy

Main article: Clerical celibacy

Opinion seems divided on whether there is any definite link or connection between the Roman Catholic institution of celibacy and incidences of child abuse by Catholic clergy.

A 2005 article in the conservative Irish weekly the Western People proposed that clerical celibacy contributed to the abuse problem by suggesting that the institution of celibacy has created a "morally superior" status that is easily misapplied by abusive priests: "The Irish Church's prospect of a recovery is zero for as long as bishops continue blindly to toe the Vatican line of Pope Benedict XVI that a male celibate priesthood is morally superior to other sections of society."[276] Christoph Schönborn and Hans Küng have also said that priestly celibacy could be one of the causes of the sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church.[237]

Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said, "We don't see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else. I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, from traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others."[277] Philip Jenkins, a long-time Catholic turned Episcopalian, asserts that his "research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination—or indeed, than non-clergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported."[278]

Male culture of the church

Italian academic Lucetta Scaraffia wrote in L'Osservatore Romano that a greater presence of women in the Vatican could have prevented clerical sexual abuse from taking place.[237]

This view has been challenged and severely criticized by several scholars for denying the cases of nuns implicated in sexual abuse and pedophilia. In 1986, a history scholar from Stanford University, recovered archival information about investigations from 1619 to 1623 involving nuns in Vellano, Italy, secretly exploiting illiterate nuns for several years.[279] In 1998, a religious research national survey on revealed a very high number of nuns reporting childhood victimizations of sexual abuse by other nuns. It was further noted that the majority of nun-abuse victims are of the same sex.[280] In 2002, Markham examined the sexual histories of nuns to find several cases of nuns sexually abusing children.[281] In the last decade, many more cases have been recovered suggesting that cases involving nuns are as frequent or more frequent than those involving male priests.

Priest shortage

It has been argued that a shortage of priests caused the Roman Catholic hierarchy to act in such a way to preserve the number of clergy and ensure that sufficient numbers were available to serve their congregations despite serious allegations that some of these priests were unfit for duty.[282] Others disagree and assert that the Church hierarchy's mishandling of the sex abuse cases merely reflected their prevailing attitude at the time towards any illegal or immoral activity by clergy.

Purported declining standards in prevailing culture

In The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, author George Weigel claims that it was the infidelity to orthodox Roman Catholic teaching, the "culture of dissent" of priests, women religious, bishops, theologians, catechists, Church bureaucrats, and activists who "believed that what the Church proposed as true was actually false" was mainly responsible for the sexual abuse of parishioners' children by their priests.[283] Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, blamed the declining morals of the late 20th century as a cause of the high number of child molestations by priests.[284]

The hypothesis that a purported decline in general moral standards was associated with an increase in abuse by clergy was promoted by a study by John Jay College funded by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The study claimed that the liberal 1960s caused the increase in abuse, and the conservative Reagan years led to its decline. The study was branded the 'Woodstock Defence' by critics who said that the study's own figures showed a surge in abuse reported from the 1950s, and the passage of time meant that reports of abuse from earlier decades were unlikely.[285]

Reinforcing this criticism of the "Woodstock Defense", a recent book[257] used data extracted from the Causes and Context report to show that the incidence of abuse actually increased more before the advent of the "permissive society" in the mid 1960s than after it. Given this statistic, the book further argued that Vatican II reforms and the "moral ambiguity" they supposedly created could not have caused the surge in abuse either, since the Council did not end until 1965 and its major reforms then took several years to implement. The book proposes an alternative explanation for the timing of the abuse "epidemic" based on two key factors: the extreme isolation of traditional seminaries from the outside world, and its particularly disorienting effect on future priests who trained during the turbulent and transformational period between the 1930s and 1950s; and a major surge in seminary enrollment that began around 1940 and which – as first noted by the National Review Board in 2004[286] – allowed a larger number of unsuitable characters to enter seminaries and become priests.

Popular culture

Many popular culture representations have been made of the sex abuse of children cases. Some are first person like Sex crimes and the Vatican (2006) is a documentary film by Colm O'Gorman, who was raped by a Catholic priest in the diocese of Ferns in County Wexford in Ireland when he was 14 years old.


A number of books have been written about the abuse suffered from priests and nuns, including Andrew Madden's Altar Boy: A Story of Life After Abuse, Carolyn Lehman's Strong at the Heart: How it Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse, Larry Kelly's The Pigeon House which deals with abuse in the Pigeon House TB Sanatorium at Ringsend, and Kathy O'Beirne's bestseller Kathy's Story which details physical and sexual abuse suffered in a Magdalene laundry in Ireland. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ed West has asserted that Kathy Beirne's story is "largely invented" according to Kathy's Real Story, a book by Hermann Kelly, a Derry born journalist on the Irish Daily Mail and former editor of The Irish Catholic.[287]

Films and documentaries

The Magdalene laundries caught the public's attention in the late 1990s as claims of widespread abuse from some former inmates gathered momentum and were made the subject a controversial film called The Magdalene Sisters (2002). In 2006, a documentary called Deliver Us From Evil was made about sexual abuse and primarily focused on one priest and his crimes; it also showed the lengths the Catholic Church would go to in order to cover up the many reports of sexual abuse.

Several other films have been made about sex abuse within the Church, including:

A daily updated list of films and documentaries is available at the "Literature List Clergy Sexual Abuse"[291] composed by journalist and author Roel Verschueren.


In 2005, Limp Bizkit released the album The Unquestionable Truth (Part 1), which focuses on dark lyrical subject matter, including Catholic sex abuse cases, terrorism and fame.[292] Comedian Tim Minchin has the songs The Pope Song[293] and Come Home (Cardinal Pell).[294]

See also


  1. In July 2003 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville paid $25.7 million to "settle child sexual-abuse allegations made in 240 lawsuits naming 34 priests and other church workers."(Smith, Peter (11 June 2003). "Archdiocese to Pay Victims $25.7 Million for Sex Abuse: Louisville Settlement 2nd largest in U.S.". The Courier-Journal. Archived from the original on 25 February 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2012.) In 2003, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston settled a large case for $85 million with 552 alleged victims.(Gilgoff, Dan (14 September 2003). "A Settlement in Boston: The Archdiocese Agrees to a record $85 Million. Will Others Follow?". U.S. News & World Report. Archived from the original on 16 October 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2012.) In 2004, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange settled nearly 90 cases for $100 million.("Diocese of Orange settles clergy abuse case". Associated Press/Casa Grande Dispatch. 23 June 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2012.) In April 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon agreed to a $75 million settlement with 177 claimants and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle agreed to a $48 million settlement with more than 160 victims.(Langlois, Ed; Robert Pfohman (19 April 2007). "Portland Archdiocese ends bankruptcy with $75 million settlement". Catholic News Service. Retrieved 29 June 2012.) In July 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a $660 million agreement with more than 500 alleged victims, in December 2006, the archdiocese had a settlement of 45 lawsuits for $60 million.(Wooden, Cindy; Ellie Hidalgo (2007). "L.A. Archdiocese reaches agreement with more than 500 abuse claimants". Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved 27 June 2012.)("L.A. Archdiocese to settle suits for $660 million: Settlement represents Church's largest payout in sexual abuse scandal". MSNBC. 14 July 2007. Retrieved 27 June 2012.) In September 2007, the Diocese of San Diego reached a $198.1 million agreement with 144 victims of childhood sexual abuse.(Martinez, Angelica; Karen Kucher (7 September 2007). "San Diego priest abuse claims settled". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 29 June 2012.) In July 2008 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver agreed "to pay $5.5 million to settle 18 claims of childhood sexual abuse."(Richardson, Valerie (2 July 2008). "Denver Archdiocese Settles 18 Sex-Abuse Cases". The Washington Times. Retrieved 29 June 2012.)


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Further reading

External links

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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