What was the initial response of bishops to sex abuse by a priest in their Diocese? Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisberger, speaking on behalf of the Canadian conference of Bishops, explained, “There used to be a lack of understanding about sexual abuse. We tended to see it like alcoholism, that it was a moral problem and completely within the power of the individual to change. So normally when people were discovered doing things like this, they were called in and given a royal dressing-down, hoping that they would be scared out of that kind of behavior.” (Weisberger, James Bishop, quoted in Friscolanti, Michael. The Truth About Priests. MacLean’s Magazine. December, 2009). Sadly, it was often the case that the abuser was chastised and, when he promised it would never happen again, was told to undergo counselling and moved to another parish. Today we know that this course of action was naive and bound to failure. Michael Coren writes about this scenario, “... this was typical of the era and was the standard advice given by experts not only to churches but to school boards, sports teams, and any other institutions where such abuse occurred.” (Coren, 2011, p. 17) Teachers, coaches and priests were given counselling and moved on to other schools, parishes or sports teams.
Was this done to protect the institutions rather than the victims? In many cases, this was true. Bishops, school principals and coaches did not want scandal to hit the press and put their parish, school or organization in the centre of the scandal. If we put ourselves in their position at that time we may have acted the same. Bishops, priests, teachers and volunteers knew the abusers; often they were their friends and workmates. Would they believe that they were capable of committing such crimes or if they did wouldn’t they think these friends would change for the better? Would they give them the benefit of the doubt and give them another chance? Now we know this would be foolish but in the 1950’s, 60’ and 70’s it was the thinking of the time.
Since the authorities in many cases were also men, they could imagine that, they too, may someday be falsely accused. Some innocent act of their own could be misinterpreted as being ‘abuse’ - a hand on a child’s shoulder for encouragement, a pat on the back, for example. Although it is claimed that most accusations of abuse were found to be true I personally know of three cases (two involving priests, one involving a teacher in a public school) that turned out to be false accusations. Some who wanted to get back at a teacher or priest who had disciplined them thought this was a good way to do it. Relatively rare it may have been, but it did happen.
Often, in those days, the young victims were not believed. Who could believe that anyone in a position of trust, especially one who claimed to be a person representing Christ Himself, would act in such a terrible way towards young children? It would have been ‘unbelievable’! Most victims would not have wanted their names broadcast in the press either in those days. Recently, two NHL players Sheldon Kennedy and Theo Fleury, have told their stories so that future abuse can be prevented. These men showed great courage in telling the horrific parts of their lives that were deeply embarrassing. Others then came forward knowing that they were not the only ones to have suffered this evil. But in the 1960s and 70s victims felt they were alone and may not be believed or would even be blamed for the acts of their adult abusers.
Is Benedict XVI the Villain?
Christopher Hitchens wrote a scathing criticism of Cardinal Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI in an article published in the Washington Post. He accused Pope Benedict of reminding bishops that anyone who disclosed rape and torture of children by priests would be excommunicated. Hitchens claimed that Ratzinger imposed a ten year ‘statute of limitations’ on actions against clerical sex offenders and in this way he was guilty of ‘obstruction of justice’. Sean Murphy has said that these allegations are blatantly false. Sean Murphy is a Catholic layman who retired from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after 35 years of police service. During the course of his police service he was responsible for investigation of sex crimes against children and adults. In one case his investigation led to the conviction of a Catholic priest. Since retirement he has studied the documents of the Second Vatican council and his articles have appeared in Catholic periodicals, journals and on the internet as well as in secular papers such as the Vancouver Sun, The Province , The Ottawa Citizen and Halifax Daily News. He wrote an article answering the claims of Hitchens.
Murphy points out that the instructions mentioned are not those of Cardinal Ratzinger but are “... from Crimen Sollicitationis. a 1962 instruction personally approved by Blessed Pope John XXIII. Contrary to Mr. Hitchens’ assertion, bishops were not reminded by Cardinal Ratzinger of secrecy or excommunication. A passage in the instruction simply noted that Crimen Sollicitatioinis had been under review, and the reference to it was understood to mean that it was not longer in effect.” (Murphy)
Murphy goes on to explain, “In any case, Crimen Sollicitationis did not threaten excommunication of people who revealed ‘rape and torture’ of children by priests. On the contrary: it imposed not only a duty to denounce such crimes (and the lesser offence of solicitation) to the bishop, but the automatic excommunication of anyone who knowingly failed to do so (emphasis mine, ed). The goal was to ensure that clerical misconduct which, by its nature, was likely to occur in private, did not remain secret and unpunished.” (Murphy)
As for the ‘statute of limitations’ mentioned by Hitchens, Murphy says, “... Ratzinger’s directive actually facilitated Church proceedings against clerical sex offenders by extending time limits that had previously hampered prosecutions.” (Murphy) Whereas previously the final date for prosecutions of sexual offenses was before the victim’s 18th birthday, Cardinal Ratzinger extended this time 10 years beyond the 18th birthday of the victim giving more time to those investigating and making justice for the victim more probable.
This misrepresentation of the truth by Hitchens is possibly not that uncommon in the media which often has a wish to castigate Roman Catholic Church authorities. True and real wrongdoing should be made known to the public but the investigation and presentation must be factual and not a result of an agenda against the Church. Particularly, the media has often made Pope Benedict XVI the villain of the sexual abuse crisis when many sources say he has done more than anyone to make certain such things do not happen again.
Mark Miraville writes that “Benedict XVI has clearly stated that any Catholic clergy accused of child sexual abuse must be reported to civil authorities and, if convicted, should receive the full civil punishment for his crime as any person would. This is the official position of the Catholic Church regarding clerical sex offenders”. (Miravelle)
The founder and director of the Iona Institute in Northern Ireland, David Quinn, wrote in the Belfast Telegraph in response to the Cloyne Report that, “... while the Vatican in 1997 was excessively concerned about the rights of accused priests, it did not interfere with civil law in Ireland. The Vatican never forbad priests from reporting abuse cases to authorities.” (Quinn)
In her review of the book, Pope Benedict XVI and the Sex Abuse Crisis by Gregory Erlandson and Matthew Bunson, Elizabeth Lev says the authors “...demonstrate that Pope Benedict should be hailed as a hero in this tragic chapter of the Church, not assailed for ‘crimes against humanity’ (as radical atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have proposed.” (Lev)
Responses of the Vatican and the Bishops
Regarding the sexual abuse of minors, the Archdiocese of Boston was one of the most affected dioceses in the United States. A look at their website today gives us the picture of what the new Archbishop, Sean O’Malley, OFM, has done in that Archdiocese to bring about change. All the names of clergy in the Archdiocese of Boston who have been found guilty by the Church (according to canon law), the State (criminal law) or both have been posted on the site. Also all the names of priests who have been laicized after having been accused of sexually abusing a minor have been included. Since 2002, the Archdiocese has had a vigorous policy to report to law enforcement all allegations of sexual abuse by clergy. These reports are made whether or not the person reporting the abuse is still a minor, whether or not the accused priest is still alive and whether or not the allegations are thought to have ‘even the semblance of truth’. The Archdiocese discloses to the public when a member of the clergy is convicted of sexual abuse of a child as a result of a criminal trial. (O’Malley).
Georgetown University-based Centre for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reports that in the US $21 million was spent in 2010 for Child protection. Background evaluations were conducted for over 99% of clerics, 99.8% of educators, 98.5% of employees and 99.2% of volunteers. As well, over 5 million children received safe environment training. (CARA).
In the report The Sexual Abuse of Minors: A Multi-faceted Response to the Challenge, William Cardinal Levada of the Pontifical Gregorian University wrote in February, 2012, “In some countries programs have already been developed by local Church authorities, in an effort to create ‘safe environments’ for minors. These efforts include the screening and education of those engaged in pastoral work in the Church, in schools and parishes, in youth outreach and recreational programs, especially offering training to recognize the signs of abuse. The hope of such training programs for the clergy and laity is of course that through increased awareness of the problem, future cases of abuse can be prevented. Many of the programs initiated in the Church for the creation of ‘safe environments’ for children have been lauded ‘as models in the commitment to eliminate cases of sexual abuse of minors in society today”. (Levada) He went on to remind, “... Bishops and Major Superiors of Religious Orders of the need to exercise even greater scrutiny in accepting candidates for the priesthood and religious life, as well as providing formation programs that provide the necessary foundational human formation, including the appropriate formation in human sexuality.” (Levada)
Canadian Bishops, in their plan for prevention of sexual abuse, declared that, “The protocol ... should include, among other elements, a screening mechanism and a mechanism for verifying the legal records of everyone working with children in a diocesan context; a training program in preventing sexual abuse to be given systematically to everyone working with children; an information program on sexual abuse created in consultation with parents to be made available to all children receiving pastoral services; and a risk management program.” (Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops website). Volunteers and staff working with children must undergo a police report before working at the parish and must provide references.
Karen Terry, the principal investigator in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Study said, “...that the number of incidences [of sexual abuse] decreased more rapidly within the Church than within society in general". (Terry)
Scathing Report of UN Human Rights Committee
A United Nations Human Rights Committee report released February, 2014 severely criticized the Roman Catholic Church for not making changes in order to ensure a safe environment for children and for “turning a blind eye to decades of sexual abuse of children by priests.” The Vatican responded that the UN committee had not taken into consideration the many changes that have already been put into place.
One wonders if the UN Committee for Human Rights has denounced:
-failure to stop trafficking of young girls as prostitutes in several Asian countries
-Pakistan for its blasphemy laws which affected a young girl in 2012 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-23112180 ,
-female circumcision practised in many countries in Africa - 90% of women affected in Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan
- child brides allowed by Sharia Law women who are stoned for adultery in Iran and other countries
- the law in India where women must undergo a ‘two-finger test’ to prove rape which implies that only virgins are raped
-forced abortion in China
These are just a few examples of human rights violations that UN Committees should address instead of harping on cases of sexual abuse that have already been dealt with.
The United Nations report also called for the Catholic Church to change its teaching on sexual orientation, reproductive health and gender equality. Ah, there’s the rub! Mark Miraville answered this part of the report by saying, “When editorials encourage the formation of a new Catholic Church founded upon the principles of absolute democracy and no Roman authority, they perhaps fail to realize that: a) Catholics believe that Jesus Christ established his Church on a human authority that is guided in truth by a divine authority (Matthew 16:15-20), which could never be replaced by the uncertainty of human majority rule; b) state-originated churches have had little historical success as their doctrines are oftentimes as passing as the current political views that established them; and c) the call for the removal of the authority of the Catholic Church in the name of total personal freedom and classless society has been used with slight variations by such infamous historical figures as Robespierre, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini and Mao”. (Miraville) Does the UN tell other religions what they can and cannot believe?
If you want more reasons why the Catholic Church cannot change its doctrines to satisfy non-Catholics read
The Commission for the Protection of Minors
In March, 2014 Pope Francis appointed eight members to the newly formed Commission for the Protection of Minors. The members are:
Dr. Catherine Bonnet, a French psychologist who has worked with victims of sexual abuse.
Baroness Sheila Hollins, a British professor of psychiatry and a physician. She has served as the head of the Royal College of Physicians.
Marie Collins, an abuse survivor from Ireland who founded the Marie Collins Foundation which provides support to children who have been sexually abused or exploited online.
Cardinal Sean O.Malley ofm , the present Archbishop of Boston who replaced
Archbishop Bernard Law in 2003 when he resigned because of mishandling the sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese.
Claudio Papale, an Italian lawyer who specializes in both civil and canon law.
Hannah Suchocka, a lawyer who is Poland’s former Prime Minister. She has also served as Poland’s ambassador to the Holy See.
Fr. Humberto Miguel Yanes, SJ, a Jesuit priest and moral theologian from Argentina who was a former student of Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis).
Fr. Hans Zoller, SJ, a German Jesuit priest, psychologist and psychiatrist who is the Chair of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
The Commission will study present programmes for protection of children and formulate suggestions for new initiatives. It will have not judicial or legislative authority but will advise the Holy See from a multidisciplinary perspective.
Archdiocese of Boston website http://www.bostoncatholic.org/Offices-And-Services/Office-Detail.aspx?id=460) accessed February, 2014
Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops. http://www.cccb.ca/site/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2555&Itemid=1214
accessed February, 2014
CARA report zenit.org Washington, D.C., April 11, 2011
Coren, Michael. Why Catholics Are Right. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd. 2011
Coren, Micahel. The Pope Can’t Change For You. The National Post. November 12, 2013
Friscolanti, Michael. The Truth About Priests. MacLean’s Magazine. December, 2009
Lev, Elizabeth. Abuse Facts- A Review of ‘Pope Benedict XVI and the Sex Abuse Crisis’ by Erlandson, G and Matthew Bunson. Zenit.org Sept 9, 2010.
Levada, Willlam Cardinal. The Sexual Abuse of Minors: A Multi-faceted Response to the Challenge, Pontifical Gregorian University, February 6, 2012.
Miravalle, Mark. A Call for Truth, Justice, Fairness and Decency. Zenit.org July 21, 2011.
Murphy, Sean. http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0329.htm) accessed February 2014.
Nebehay, Stephanie and Philip Pullella. UN Report Slams Vatican on Child Sex Abuse, Demands Action. Toronto Sun, February 5, 2014.
O’Malley, Archbishop Sean. Zenit.org ZE110827, The World Seen From Rome, August 27, 2011
Quinn, David. quoted in Zenit.org. Belfast, Northern Ireland. July 21, 2011.
Terry, Karen. Zenit.org. May 18, 2011.