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Five facts about the Catholic Church's abuse crisis they don't tell you


“I have a picture of myself when I was six years old, during my first Holy Communion, when I was told that I was bad and every bad thing I did I had to report to the priest. This is the priest, who abused me for 12 years…”

1. A GLOBAL PROBLEM

The Catholic Church insists on the need to listen to victims. It is necessary to confront the physical and moral tragedy head-on, and not allow for justification. It is also important to recognize the scale of a problem that affects the whole of society.

ANDREA IACOMINI
Spokesperson, UNICEF ITALY
"There are almost 15 million girls in the world from age 15-19, who claim to have suffered sexual violence over the course of their lifetime. It is a striking number, which demonstrates the extent of a phenomenon that today is a hidden epidemic. It is a problem particularly seen when it comes to young girls. In UNICEF we have carried out a study in 28 countries. We have seen that 90 percent of adolescents who have suffered sexual violence said the culprit for these abuses was usually a member of the family, inside the walls of their own house.”

One in ten women in five European countries report having experienced sexual violence before age 15. 

In the United States, some 700,000 children suffer violence or abuse each year, according to the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The same institution reveals that one in 10 children is sexually abused. 

2. IMMIGRANTS FLEE, ABOVE ALL, FROM ABUSE

In this context, many are surprised to learn the main reason why millions of people migrate to other countries. 

ANDREA IACOMINI
Spokesperson, UNICEF ITALY
"Many think they are displaced by climate change. Yes, they move because of poverty. This is true. They move because of overpopulation. Yes, they move because in Egypt a family wants to provide a better future for their child... as we all do. However, in West Central Africa there are 12 million people on the move, half of them children. They migrate because of extreme family situations. They are victims of abuse and domestic violence from close relatives. This is the pattern. Many of these boys, when asked, respond in a way that seems like they think it's something normal.”

3. ABUSE HAS BEEN REDUCED IN RECENT YEARS

When the report on abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania was published in August 2018, there was a figure that drew notable attention: 301 accused priests. However it was also noted that only two cases from the last 70 years are currently in process.

This last fact is relevant because, in the criminal behavior of many priests and those who covered for them, something has changed radically. 

In 2002, the U.S. Bishops' Conference toughened their anti-abuse measures, streamlined processes, and established criteria for reporting to civil authorities. Since then, no priest with consistent allegations of abuse, could remain in office. The number of abuse cases has declined considerably in recent years.

According to the Pontifical Gregorian University's Child Protection experts, most of the abuses in the U.S. Church took place in the 1970s and 1980s. In Germany, they occurred in the 1970s. In Australia, the peak level of incidences is even earlier, in the 1950s. However, Catholics today pay for the consequences of these crimes. 

4. EFFECTIVE MEASURES HAVE BEEN PUT IN PLACE

Apart from regulations or preventive measures implemented at a diocesan level, what is hardly taken into account is that, since the pontificate of John Paul II, the Catholic Church was one of the first international institutions to adopt such measures. 

Years later, in 2010 Benedict XVI established three key criteria:

First, collaboration with civil authorities in cases of abuse. After that, the statute of limitations for crimes increased from 10 to 20 years. Finally, the “acquisition, distribution or possession” of child pornographic material was penalized. 

These measures have been effective and have helped sensitize bishops to remove those involved.

ANDREA IACOMINI
Spokesperson, UNICEF Italy
“Upon entering the Church sphere, it is clear to all, the extent of abuse that occurred. Everyone knows about it. We have seen it all in the media. People for years now have kept it inside and have waited to tell others about it. They were afraid. It was something shameful, and they were often in uncomfortable situations... blackmail. However, this happens to a certain extent in all cases. I believe that today the Church is taking enormous steps. This pope has really sent a message. He does so continually and effectively."

5. TRANSPARENCY IS GAINING GROUND

One of the biggest difficulties in the face of abuse has been concealing cases, done out of fear of scandalizing. However, these days the approach is different.

In the United States, data on abuse in the Church is published online every year. In Ireland, these reports of dioceses and religious orders are also published. 

In 2018, France, Belgium and Germany began to provide data publicly, as well as other countries.

Above all, the general attitude has changed to prioritizing attention toward victims and has acknowledged the magnitude of the tragedy.

ANTONIO CARRÓN
Protection of Minors, Order of Augustinian Recollects
"It impacts you much more because that person tells you the trust they had placed in that person was complete, it was total. They had assimilated the image of that person with his or her image of God. So when this trust is broken, the person is not just physically abused, but rather they suffer an indescribable inner abuse. It is a wound in his or her heart, a wound in the soul that is very difficult to repair. It is only when one truly discovers that wound, that they are able to change a little their interior perspective.

In this process, the victims have every right to lead the way and promote the pursuit for justice with more forcefulness and with greater agility.

TIMOTHY LAW
Ending Clergy Abuse
“Number one: immediately enact into universal canon law that any cleric who has been found guilty of even a single act of child sexual abuse, no matter when the act occurred, will immediately be removed from ministry and permanently removed from the priesthood.”

Much remains to be done in the fight against abuse in the Church. However, it must be noted a path has already been taken that begins by looking victims in the eye.