US not alone in grappling with Catholic sex abuse, cover-up
Recent revelations of sexual misconduct and cover-up within the highest ranks of the US Catholic Church have revived the sense of betrayal that devastated the American church’s credibility after the first wave of scandal hit in 2002.
But the United States is by no means alone: Cases of Catholic priests raping and molesting children, and of bishops covering up for them, have erupted on nearly every continent in recent years, with Pope Francis’ native Latin America the latest to explode.
Francis is expected to address the issue head-on this weekend when he visits Ireland, the first country to come to grips with the problem in the 1990s.
A glance of where the global Catholic scandal has played out most visibly in recent years:
After the abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002, US bishops adopted the toughest anti-abuse norms in the Catholic Church, a “one strike and you’re out” policy that removes any priest from ministry if he commits a single act of abuse that is admitted to or established.
The norms require dioceses to report allegations to police and have a lay-led review board to receive and assess claims.
The US scandal was revived in June with revelations that one of the cardinals who drafted the 2002 policy, the retired archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick, himself had been accused of molesting at least two minors as well as adult seminarians. He has said he is innocent, but recently resigned as a cardinal.
The scandal has exploded anew with the Pennsylvania grand jury report finding some 300 priests sexually abused at least 1,000 children in six dioceses since the 1940s.
Francis discovered first-hand just how pervasive clerical sex abuse is — and how effectively it has been covered up by the Catholic hierarchy — when he created the greatest scandal of his five-year papacy earlier this year.
During a January visit to the once staunchly Catholic Chile, Francis set off a firestorm of criticism when he branded as “calumny” accusations of cover-up against a Chilean bishop he had strongly defended.
After realizing his error, Francis did an about-face: He ordered a Vatican investigation, apologized in person to the victims he had discredited, and strong-armed the entire Chilean hierarchy to tender their resignations.
It wasn’t enough. Chilean criminal prosecutors are now on the case, and have staged a series of raids on the church’s secret archives to seize documents and plan to depose the current archbishop of Santiago.
Australia launched a four-year national investigation into all forms of institutional abuse — Catholic and otherwise — that found 4,444 people were abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions between 1980 and 2015.
The Royal Commission investigation, Australia’s highest form of inquiry, deduced that seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of sexually abusing children.
One of them is Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican finance minister and Francis adviser who last year took a leave of absence to stand trial in Melbourne on historic sex abuse charges. Pell has said he is innocent.
More recently, Francis accepted the resignation of Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson after he became the most senior Catholic cleric convicted in criminal court of covering up abuse. He was sentenced to serve a one-year sentence at home. Wilson has denied wrongdoing and plans to appeal.
One of France’s most prominent cardinals, Philippe Barbarin, is due to stand trial in January on charges he covered up for a known pedophile in Lyon, where Barbarin has been archbishop since 2002.
Barbarin and five other French defendants are accused of knowing that the Rev. Bernard Preynat sexually abused young scouts but didn’t report him to police. Preynat, now in his 70s, has confessed in letters to victims’ parents and meetings with his superiors, including Barbarin.
Another defendant is the Vatican official in charge of abuse cases, named because Barbarin consulted him about Preynat and was told to keep the priest away from children but to do everything to avoid scandal.
Just this week, a French priest, the Rev. Pierre Vignon, launched a petition urging Barbarin to resign as archbishop and cardinal. By Wednesday it had gathered more than 5,000 signatures.
Barbarin, 67, has admitted to making some “mistakes” in the management and nominations of priests, but has denied any attempt to cover up the Preynat case.
Judge-led investigations have produced four mammoth reports since 2005 into the church’s wretched record in dealing with predator priests, helping to dismantle the Catholic Church’s once- dominant influence in Irish society and politics.
The reports have detailed how tens of thousands of children suffered wide-ranging abuses in church-run workhouse-style institutions, how Irish bishops shuttled known pedophiles throughout Ireland and to unwitting parishes in the US and Australia, and how Dublin bishops didn’t tell police of any crimes until forced by the weight of lawsuits in the mid-1990s.
One of the final investigations, into the diocese of Cloyne, found that officials there were still shielding suspected pedophiles from the law until 2008 — more than 12 years after the Irish church unveiled a policy requiring the mandatory reporting of all suspected crimes to police.
That policy, however, was rejected by the Vatican in 1997 as undermining canon law — a position that, combined with the Vatican’s refusal to cooperate in the Irish fact-finding probes, prompted the Cloyne inquiry to find the Vatican itself culpable in promoting the culture of cover-up.
In response, Ireland’s then-Prime Minister Enda Kenny issued a blistering attack on the Vatican, accusing it of downplaying the rape of children to protect its own power and reputation.
Kenny’s 2011 parliament speech, in which he denounced “the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism….the narcissism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day,” led to a diplomatic standoff.
While only a few hundred people live in the world’s tiniest sovereign state, Vatican City’s criminal jurisdiction covers the Holy See’s global diplomatic corps, and two priestly diplomats have faced trial in recent years.
In June, the Vatican tribunal convicted Monsignor Carlo Capella of possession and distribution of child pornography and sentenced him to five years in prison. Capella admitted to viewing the images during a period of “fragility” and interior crisis sparked by his job transfer to the Vatican embassy in Washington.
In 2013, the Vatican charged its then-ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Monsignor Jozef Wesolowski, with sexually abusing young boys. Wesolowski was defrocked by the Vatican’s church court, but he died before the Vatican’s criminal trial got underway.