Monday, 21 October 2013

Child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church

For what you are about to receive...

Child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests appears to have a long history within Christianity,[1] and is especially associated with the Roman Catholic Church, due to a number of high profile scandals which have come to light in recent decades.
Many of these scandals relate to molestations committed decades ago, which were hushed up by the Church at the time. This hushing up included pressurising abuse victims into silence, a practice supported by Church decrees such as the Crimen sollicitationis. This culture of secrecy and self-preservation is one of the factors which has allowed paedophiles to remain active within the clergy, together with the tradition of clerical celibacy which may attract those who cannot satisfy their sexual proclivities openly, and priests' frequent access to children in the pastoral duties.

21st century scandals

In the early 2000s, several priest molestation scandals broke that have rippled worldwide. Many cases were not prosecutable, as the evidence uncovered was from so long ago that the Statute of Limitations had expired. As a result of some of the cases, there was a push to alter these statutes so that adults who were molested as children would have a chance to testify and seek justice years after the event. In just one Australian state, Victoria, it is estimated between 600 and 10,000 children were abused since the 1930s.[2] It is estimated that at least 4% of Roman Catholic priests serving in the United States during the first half of the 20th Century abused minors. [3]
What gets me is it's the same story every time and every place. Bishops appoint priests that they know have abused children in the past to new parishes and new communities and more abuse happens,
— Colm O’Gorman, former abuse victim [4] [5][6]
Colm O’Gorman directs an Irish charity assisting sex abuse victims.

 Clerical celibacy

Some maintain that enforced celibacy leads to paedophilia
(...) what is it about Catholicism that fosters child rape among its supposedly godly representatives? Maybe, just maybe, it's entirely unnatural to force a person to be "celibate?" Perhaps the priesthood attracts child molesters because of its unnatural structure that, by eliminating healthy sexuality, encourages perversion and also covers it up?
—"Does the Catholic Church foster pedophilia?" in Freethought Nation [7]
Andrew Brown also maintains that celibacy encouraged men who were “confused or in denial about their own sexuality” to become priests. Further Brown claims that celibacy drives sexual energy to murky, awful forms of expression. Andrew Brown however maintains celibacy played a more important part in the cover-ups. Brown believes a groupthink developed among the celibate brothers sharing the same temptations and frustrations. Friendship, affection and trust were diverted away from the enticements of non-Celibate outsiders and drawn inward to the ‘safer’ celibate community. Loyalty to the brotherhood and protecting brothers became more important than protecting victims. The substitute family of fellow celibate priests became more important than the welfare of parishioners. [8]

 Papal hypocrisy

There are even accusations that Pope Benedict XVI earlier in his career covered up for abusive priests in Munich and later as hypocritically named "morals enforcer" for The Vatican.[9] Priests who had abused children were simply moved on to other parishes where, all too frequently, they re-offended. Pope Benedict XVI personally issued a document telling bishops to hush up allegations of abuse and avoid reporting abuse to the authorities. The bishops were instructed to keep this sensitive document in a safe at all times. Perpetrators and victims of abuse were sometimes pressured into silence with the threat of excommunication to keep them in line.[10] Other victims were bribed into silence.[11]
In 2012 Pope Benedict wrote:-
‘Children are the greatest treasure and the future of every society: truly caring for them means recognising our responsibility to teach, defend and live by the moral virtues which are the key to human fulfilment.’
Countless abuse victims have had their childhood, or their life, effectively ruined through the psychological trauma of abuse. Some victims were even driven to commit or attempt suicide.[13][14]

Abuse of trust

Roman Catholics are taught from early childhood to respect priests and to believe what priests tell them about God and religion. Paedophile priests can easily abuse this position. For example, Alexander Bede Walsh was convicted of serious sex assaults against boys. [15] [16] One child abuse victim said Walsh gave him alcohol, told him drinking it would get him to heaven; another believed abuse was the hand of god touching him.[17] Another man, who was a teenager at the time, claims abuse by Walsh drove him to attempt suicide.[18] Walsh, who was convicted in 2004 over computer indecency,[19] was allowed to work at Roman Catholic premises within yards of a playgroup. This is far less serious than the abuse allegations above, but it happened in 2009 and 2010, despite promises from the church that they would mend their ways. [20][21][22] Walsh has been sentenced to 22 years in prison.[23][24][25] Walsh and others took advantage of orphans, and nuns carried out abuse as well as priests. One man wants compensation.[26][27]

 Concealment from police

An Australia priest named John Denham (now defrocked) is alleged to have assaulted two boys in the late 1970s, who complained to the school principal, Father Brennan. Instead of contacting police, Brennan allegedly caned the boys to make sure they wouldn't complain again. In 2012 Brennan was charged with failing to report these serious crimes against the boys,[28] but died before court proceedings could begin, having been suffering from terminal cancer.[29]
Bishop Finn of Kansas city is on trial accused of concealing child abuse and child pornography from the police. The Reverend Shawn Ratigan, who worked under Finn, had indecent images on his computer. According to the prosecution, Finn knew about the offenses during 2010 to 2011, but failed to report the evidence to legal authorities.[30][31][32]
There have been cases where other similarly accused bishops reached agreements with the local authority and avoided prosecution.[33]

 Liability in UK law

In a case relating to abuse committed by a Catholic priest (since deceased) in the 1970s, a High Court in the UK ruled in 2011 that the local diocese was "vicariously liable" for the abuse, as any other employer would be.[34] The Church launched an appeal against this decision, arguing that the relationship between bishop and priest is "different" from that of employer and employee. The victim claimed sex abuse and rape at a children's home during the 1970s. Her lawyer commented that "this challenge to the High Court ruling is likely to be deeply offensive to victims of clerical abuse".[35]

Blaming the disease

Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, of South Africa describes paedophilia as "illness, not a criminal condition" and claims abusers should be treated rather than punished. The cardinal says doctors should examine child abusers. [36] Treatment as well as punishment is common in liberal countries for illnesses that lead to crime.
B. Dorries from Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and herself a victim of priestly abuse when she was a child told the BBC:
"If it is a disease that's fine, but it's also a crime and crimes are punished, criminals are held accountable for what they did and what they do. (…) "The bishops and the cardinals have gone to great lengths to cover these crimes to enable the predators to move on, to not be arrested, to keep the secrets within the church."
Napier later apologized unreservedly for his comments. [38]

Leaked 1997 letter

In January 2010 an anonymous Irish bishop leaked a letter that undermined the Vatican's claim that the Irish sex abuse scandals were an issue of local mismanagement. The letter was written by the then Vatican ambassador to Ireland, Luciano Storero, and sent in response to a 1996 agreement reached by Irish bishops to introduce mandatory reporting of suspected abusers to the authorities - kind of like what one would expect in any organisation that doesn't consider itself to be above the law. Storero's letter reinforces the need to stick with canonical law, and highlighted the possible embarrassment of subsequently seeing their decisions over-ridden by the Holy See. The full text of the letter is hosted by the New York Times here. The letter is being claimed by many, including abuse victims, as being a "smoking gun" that establishes complicity in Rome.[39]

 The church responds

The Catholic Church, given the chance to concede to reality and admit that the protection of child rapists is a serious problem, opted instead to spin. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, claimed that the letter had been misunderstood. He argued that the letter was not intended to instruct bishops to disregard civil reporting of suspected abusers, and that it was merely reinforcing the need to adhere to church law meticulously.[40]
Lombardi's response needs to be evaluated in light of the following excerpt taken from the 1997 letter:
In particular, the situation of "mandatory reporting" gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.
Even when giving the benefit of the doubt, this letter appears to have caused the Irish bishops to continue their habit of shielding suspected abusers from the civil authorities, yet if that was not the intention the Vatican was reticent in sending a corrective letter. If such a letter was sent then it's unlikely it'll be seen unless leaked. Documents originating from WikiLeaks allege that the Vatican used their statehood to hinder requests for assistance in the Murphy Commission investigation in to sex abuse in the Dublin diocese.[41]

 Other Catholic responses

A screen capture of the Catholic League's news releases for January. Can you see their response to the letter?

The Catholic League managed to fit in a mention of the letter, but of course had many more important things to be angry about. Namely a blasphemous video at the Smithsonian and Muslims saying bad things about the Pope.[42]
Donohue's response begins by referring to a Jeffrey Lena, a lawyer representing the Vatican, echoing Storero's claim that the letter did not instruct Irish bishops to disregard civil law, but instead cautioned them against doing anything that could hinder internal church disciplinary proceedings. This is rendered nonsensical when a moment is taken to wonder what would be done if any other organisation, such as a fast-food chain, decided to perform internal investigations prior to informing the authorities of allegations that their employees had been raping the children of customers?
Donohue goes on to complain that the New York Times failed to report on a rabbinical court in Brooklyn that ordered its 10,000 members not to report crimes to the police. How this is relevant to the letter is anyone's guess, but it certainly helps Donohue build on his persecution complex, and perhaps imply that those pesky Jews are at the helm of the newspaper.
The letter finishes with the complaint that liberal media and activist groups have actually fought against mandatory reporting, when in fact Catholic bishops want it. Even if true, the letter from the Vatican appears to be out of step with the wishes of these bishops. Some counseling groups have indeed campaigned against a requirement that they report rape, although their circumstances are slightly different to those of the church. These groups aren't normally in the position of having to protect their own employees from rape allegations, and even accepting their opposition, the Church has not exactly been loud in fighting for such legislation. Indeed Connecticut's bishops mounted a vigorous campaign to prevent the statue of limitations on civil abuse suits, because they quite correctly note that cases become increasingly difficult to defend against as time passes, but also because of the financial liability it could create for them. more