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The Catholic Church’s Child Sex Abuse Problem

Timely Insights on Laws, Issues and New Developements

Priest A grand jury report issued in Pennsylvania last week has brought the Catholic church’s long-running pedophilia problem back into the public eye. It is a problem that has sadly festered for decades, likely for centuries.  After a two-year investigation in Pennsylvania, the grand jury found that some 300 priests had molested at least 1,000 children, and likely thousands more, dating back to the 1940s.  That’s when the church first began keeping records on pedophile priests.

10,000 Children Report Priest Abuse

The Pennsylvania grand jury report issued this month comes 14 years after the Catholic church itself commissioned what became its own shocking news release back in 2004.   The church then found that more than 4,000 US Roman Catholic priests had faced sexual abuse allegations since the 1950s.  Those sex abuse cases involved more than 10,000 children, most of them young boys.

Related: Pennsylvania Priest Abuse Lawsuit

What is the church doing to address its Pedophile Priest Problem?

Many victims of priest abuse and priest-abuse-victims’ advocates have, for decades, criticized the church’s criminal lack of leadership in addressing the problem.  In too many actual cases, church leaders, including the pope, have either ignored the problem, or else they have enabled abuser priests to continue unchecked in their positions of power.

Priest Abuse Lawsuits

Evidence discovered in priest abuse lawsuits has found that many pedophile priests have been moved from one parish to another, often without any rehabilitation or proper supervision, legal or otherwise.  In many of those cases, church elders pointedly failed to inform the offending priest’s newly-assigned parishioners that they’d been given an accused pedophile priest.  In many of those cases, the priest was found to abuse children at his new parish just as he had in the last which had driven him out.

The Pennsylvania pedophile priest report also noted that when local law enforcement was called in to report a sex abuser priest – because pedophilia is a crime – the local police often gave the priest a free pass in “deference” to the church.

The Pope – Words sans Action

The current Pope, Francis, has done what virtually all of his predecessors have done, talk tough about taking responsibility for sex abuse and ferreting out offending priests; but his actions, or lack thereof, and his reactions before and after the Pennsylvania report overshadow his words.

NPR: Pope apologizes for mis-handling Chile Sex-abuse Scandal

Pope Francis had even gone so far as to denounce accusers who had been deemed entirely credible in telling their sad tales of abuse at the hands of a priest.  In Chile, the pope’s criticism of a credible victim’s veracity recently led to his apologizing to priest sex-abuse victims not only for their abuse at the hands of a priest, but for the pope’s own heaping of scorn upon their personal accounts of that horrific abuse.   In many cases, so many abused people came forward with similar stories about the same priests that it was simply impossible for the pope, or anybody else, to discount their credibility.

Mainstream slow to Reveal Truth

The mainstream media first began to acknowledge child molestation by priests in the 1980s, in the US and Canada, at least 30 years after the first victims’ stories began coming out in the 1950s.

By the 1990s, stories came out in Argentina, Australia, and elsewhere.  In 1995, the Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, stepped down after sexual abuse allegations rocked the Church there. Widespread priest abuse stories also began hitting the newsstands in Ireland at that time. By the early 2000s, the beasty priest genie was out of the bottle all over the world.

The Boston Globe newspaper (as seen in the 2015 film: Spotlight) exposed widespread abuse.  The Globe detailed how pedophile priests were shuffled around by Church leaders instead of being punished.  The story inspired priest-abused people across the US and the world to tell their  stories.

Endemic Church Sex Abuse

In 2009, a report found that sexual and psychological abuse was “endemic” in Catholic-run industrial schools and orphanages in Ireland for most of the 20th Century.

In 2017, a five-year Australian inquiry found “tens of thousands of children” were sexually abused in Australian institutions over decades, including churches, schools, and sports clubs.

In 2018, a former Vatican representative received a five-year prison sentence for child pornography crimes.  In addition, Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson resigned in 2018 after being convicted of concealing the child sex abuse crimes of another priest. In Chile this year, 34 Roman Catholic bishops offered to resign in the wake of a child sex scandal and cover-up.

The Catholic Church’s Child Sex Abuse Problem

NPR reports that under Pope Francis, a special panel has been set up to deal with the priest abuse issue, but it has faced setbacks, including high-level resignations. In 2017, an Irish survivor of  priest abuse, Marie Collins, left the group, citing “stumbling blocks and hindrances”.

Sadly, that sounds like business as usual for the Catholic church and how it tackles (or fails to tackle) its long-running pedophile priest problem.


  • Pennsylvania Priest Abuse Lawsuit
  • Abuse by Clergy Lawsuit
  • BBC News on Priest Sex Abuse

by Matthews & Associates

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