The Catholic sex abuse cases are a series scandals in a number of countries relating to the abuse of minors by Catholic priests, that first rose to widespread public attention at the end of the 20th century.[1] In 2001 Major lawsuits emerged primarily in the United States and Europe, claiming that some priests had sexually abused minors.[2] In the U.S., the country with the majority of sex-abuse cases,[3] the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned a comprehensive study that found that four percent of all priests who served in the U.S. from 1950 to 2002 faced some sort of sexual accusation.[4][5] The Church was widely criticized when it emerged that some bishops had known about abuse allegations, failed to report them to police and reassigned accused priests after first sending them to psychiatric counseling.[2][5][6][7] Some bishops and psychiatrists contended that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling.[6][8] Pope John Paul II declared that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young".[9] Some members of the church hierarchy as well as outside commentators have argued that media coverage of the issue has been excessive given that abuse occurs in other institutions.[10][11][12][13] The hierarchy of the church in the United States instituted reforms to prevent future abuse including requiring background checks for Church employees and volunteers;[14][15] and, because the vast majority of victims were teenage boys, the worldwide Church also prohibited the ordination of men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies".[8][16][17]

Global overviewEdit

Approximately 80% of the priests involved in sexual abuse of minors were located in the United States.[note 1] Although allegations of clergy sexual abuse have surfaced in several countries around the world, there have been no comprehensive studies which compare the relative incidence of sexual abuse in different regions. However, there is a general perception that the issue has been most prominent in the United States, and then in Ireland, Australia, and Canada.[18]

Number of allegationsEdit

The number of alleged abuses increased in the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s, declined in the 1980s and by the 1990s had returned to the levels of the 1950s.[19]

Of the 11,000 allegations reported by bishops in the John Jay study, 3300 were not investigated because the allegations were made after the accused priest had died. 6700 allegations were substantiated, leaving 1000 which could not be substantiated.

According to the John Jay report, one-third of the accusations were made in the years 2002-3. Another third of the allegations were reported between 1993 and 2001.[19]

Profile of the victimsEdit

An overwhelming majority of the victims, 81 percent, were males. A majority of the victims were post-pubescent adolescents with a small percentage of the priests accused of abusing children who had not reached puberty.[20]

The John Jay Report determined that just under 6% of victims were 7 years of age or younger. 16% of the victims were between age 8 and age 10.[19]

Some sources have asserted that most of the victims were between the ages of 16 and 17, making the sexual abuse instances of hebephilia rather than pedophilia. These sources argue that, by failing to make this distinction, the media has fostered a misconception of the problem. The vast majority of the victims (78%) were between age 11 and age 17. 15% of the victims were 16 to 17 years of age; 51% were between the ages of 11 and 14.[19]

Profile of the abusersEdit

Half the priests were 35 years of age or younger at the time of the first instance of alleged abuse. Fewer than 7% of the priests were reported to have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children. Although 19% of the accused priests had alcohol or substance abuse problems, only 9% used drugs or alcohol during the alleged instances of abuse. Almost 70% of the abusive priests were ordained before 1970, after attending pre-Vatican II seminaries or seminaries that had had little time to adapt to the reforms of Vatican II.[19]

Of the priests who were accused of sexual abuse, 59% were accused of a single allegation. 41% of the priests were the subject of more than one allegation. Just under 3% of the priests were the subject of ten or more allegations. The 149 priests who had more than 10 allegations against them accounted for 2,960 of the total number of allegations.[19]

New cases and view of CatholicsEdit

Further information: #Response of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops

While the Church in the United States claims to have addressed the issue, some disagree. In 2005, Dr. Kathleen McChesney of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said "in 2004, at least 1,092 allegations of sexual abuse were made against at least 756 Catholic priests and deacons in the United States" which mostly occurred between 1965 and 1974.[21] Although few Catholics are aware of the steps the church as taken, when informed of them, large majorities approve these actions.

Compensation and legal expensesEdit

American dioceses have paid more than 2.6 billion US dollars in abuse-related costs since 1950. [22]

Early approaches to the treatment of sexual abusersEdit

A major focus of the lawsuits and media attention since 2002 has been criticism of the approach taken by Catholic bishops in responding to allegations of sexual abuse by priests. As a general rule, the allegations were not reported to legal authority for investigationand prosecution. Instead, Many dioceses directed the offending priests to seek psychological treatment and assessment. According to the John Jay report, nearly 40% of priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse participated in treatment programs. The more allegations a priest had, the more likely he was to participate in treatment.[19]

The Church was widely criticized when it was discovered that some bishops reassigned the accused instead of seeking to have them permanently removed from the priesthood via the process of laicization (popularly known as "defrocking"). Some bishops repeatedly moved offending priests from parish to parish, where they still had personal contact with children. [2][6]

In response to these allegations, defenders of the Church's actions have suggested that in re-assigning priests after treatment, bishops were acting on the best medical advice then available, a policy also followed by the US public school system when dealing with accused teachers. Some bishops and psychiatrists have asserted that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling.[6][8] Many of the abusive priests had received counseling before being reassigned.[5][7] Critics have questioned whether bishops are necessarily able to form accurate judgments on a priest's recovery.[citation needed] The priests were allowed to resume their previous duties with children only when the bishop was advised by the treating psychologists or psychiatrists that it was safe for them to resume their duties.[citation needed]

According to the USCCB, Catholic bishops in the fifties and sixties viewed sexual abuse by priests as "a spiritual problem, one requiring a spiritual solution, i.e. prayer". However, starting in the sixties, the bishops came to adopt an emerging view based on the advice of medical personnel who recommended psychiatric and psychological treatment for those who sexually abused minors. This view asserted that, with proper treatment, priests who had molested children could safely be placed back into ministry, although perhaps with certain restrictions such as not being in contact with children. This approach viewed pedophilia as an addiction, such as alcoholism which many feel cannot be cured but which can be treated and restrained.[23] Some of the treatment facilities most frequently used for this purpose included the St. Luke Institute in Maryland; centers operated by the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, NM, and St. Louis, MO; the Institute of Living in Hartford,CT and the Southdown Institute in Canada.[24]

This approach continued to be practiced by the bishops well into the mid-1980s, which some see as the "tipping point in the understanding of the problem within the church and in society". As late as 1998, the Servants of the Paraclete were still ministering to sexually abusive priests at their center in Gloucestershire, England.[25]

One notable exception to this view was Father Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of The Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete. Although Fitzgerald started the Servants of the Paraclete to assist priests who were struggling with alcohol and substance abuse problems, he soon began receiving priests who had sexually abused minors. Initially, Fitzgerald attempted to treat such priests using the same spiritual methods that he used with his other "guests". However, as he grew convinced of the futility of treating sexually abusive priests, Fitzgerald came to oppose vehemently the return of sexual abusers to duties as parish priests. He wrote regularly to bishops in the United States and to Vatican officials, including the pope, of his opinion that many sexual abusers in the priesthood could not be cured and should be laicized immediately.[26]

Although some bishops refused to hire sexually abusive priests based on Fitzgerald's refusal to recommend them for parish duties, others ignored Fitzgerald's advice. In general, it appears that bishops chose to ignore Fitzgerald's recommendations, preferring to rely on the advice of medical and psychological experts who asserted that those guilty of sexual abuse could return to work following successfuly psychiatric treatment.

Eventually, Fitzgerald lost control of the Servants of the Paraclete and medical and psychological professionals were employed to work at the center. These professionals maintained that sexually abusive priests could be returned to parish work following successful treatment. Fitzgerald continued to oppose this view until his death in 1969.

Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., chairman of the United States Bishops Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, explained why Father Fitzgerald’s advice "went largely unheeded for 50 years": First, "cases of sexually abusive priests were considered to be rare." Second, Father Fitzgerald's, “views, by and large, were considered bizarre with regard to not treating people medically, but only spiritually, and also segregating a whole population with sexual problems on a deserted island.” And finally, “There was mounting evidence in the world of psychology that indicated that when medical treatment is given, these people can, in fact, go back to ministry.” This was a view which Cupich characterized as one that "the bishops came to regret." [27]

Controversy over the Catholic Church's awareness of the problemEdit

A major aggravating factor was the actions of Catholic bishops in responding to allegations of clerical abuse.[28] It was revealed that some bishops had facilitated compensation payments to alleged victims on condition that the allegations remained secret.

In response to criticism that the Catholic hierarchy should have acted more quickly and decisively to remove, laicise and report priests accused of sexual misconduct, contemporary bishops have responded that the hierarchy was unaware until recent years of the danger in shuffling priests from one parish to another and in concealing the priests' problems from those they served. For example, Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said: "We have said repeatedly that ... our understanding of this problem and the way it's dealt with today evolved, and that in those years ago, decades ago, people didn't realize how serious this was, and so, rather than pulling people out of ministry directly and fully, they were moved."[29]

Crimen Sollicitationis instructions controversyEdit

Main article: Crimen sollicitationis (document)

In 2003, a 1962 document was discovered in the Vatican's archives,[30] titled "Crimen sollicitationis" (Instruction on the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation) written by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, the Secretary of the Holy Office, issued an instruction regarding the disciplinary procedures for dealing with solicitation of penitents for sex by priests during the Sacrament of Penance.[31] The document dealt with any priest who "tempts a penitent... in the act of sacramental confession [...] towards impure or obscene matters." It directed that investigation of allegations of solicitation in the confessional and the trials of accused priests be conducted in secrecy.

Some parties have interpreted the document to be a directive from the Vatican to keep all allegations of sexual abuse secret, leading to widespread media coverage of its contents.[32][33][34] Lawyers for some of those making abuse allegations claimed that the document demonstrated a systematic conspiracy to conceal such crimes.[35][36] The Vatican responded that the document was not only widely misinterpreted, but moreover had been superseded by more recent guidelines in the 1960s and 1970s, and especially the 1983 Code of Canon Law.[37][38]

Progressive public awareness of the problemEdit

Although bishops had been sending sexually abusive priests to facilities such as those operated by the Servants of the Paraclete since the 1950s, there was scant public discussion of the problem until the mid-1960s. In 1967, the first public discussion of priest sexual abuse of minors took place at a meeting sponsored by the National Association for Pastoral Renewal held on the campus of Notre Dame University in 1967. All U.S. Catholic bishops were invited to attend that meeting. Various local and regional discussions of the problem were held by Catholic bishops in the ensuing years. In 1983, the Vatican promulgated a revised Code of Canon Law which included a canon (1395, 2) which explicitly named sex with a minor by clerics as a canonical crime.

However, the problem did not receive national attention until the 1980s. In 1981, Father Donald Roemer of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles pled guilty to felony sexual abuse of a minor. The case received widespread media coverage. The issue of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy was first reported at the national level in the U.S. by the National Catholic Reporter in September 1983,[39]. The subject gained wider national notoriety in October 1985 when Louisiana priest Gilbert Gauthe pled guilty to 11 counts of molestation of boys.[40] After the coverage of Gilbert Gauthe subsided, the issue faded to the fringes of public attention until the mid-1990s, when the issue was again brought to national attention after a number of books on the topic were published.[41]

It was not until early 2002, however, that the Boston Globe's, Pulitzer Prize winning, coverage of sexual abuse cases involving Catholic priests thrust the scandal into the national limelight on an ongoing basis.[42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49] The coverage of these cases encouraged other victims to come forward with their allegations of abuse resulting in more lawsuits and criminal cases.[2]

Sex abuse scandal in United StatesEdit

Main article: Catholic sex abuse scandal in the United States

Template:See also2

Public discourse on sexual abuse in the United States had been muted until the 1990s when a series of books on the topic was published.[41] Even then, it was not until early 2002 that the Boston Globe coverage of a series of criminal prosecutions of five Roman Catholic priests thrust the issue of "sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests" into the national limelight.[42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51] The coverage of these cases encouraged other victims to come forward with their allegations of abuse resulting in more lawsuits and criminal cases.[2]

As it became clear that there was truth to many of the allegations and that there was a pattern of sexual abuse and alleged cover-up in a number of large dioceses across the USA, what had originally appeared to be a few isolated cases of abuse grew into a nationwide scandal, resulting in a crisis for the Catholic Church in the United States. The publicity may have encouraged victims in other nations to come forward with their allegations of abuse, thus appearing to spread the crisis.

Ultimately, it became clear that, over several decades in the 20th century, some priests and lay members of religious orders in the Catholic Church had sexually abused minors (those under 18) on a scale such that the accusations reached into the thousands. Although the majority of cases were reported to have occurred in the United States, victims have come forward in other nations such as Ireland, Canada and Australia. A major aggravating factor was the actions of Catholic bishops to keep these allegations secret and to reassign the accused to other parishes in positions where they often had continued unsupervised contact with youth, allowing them opportunities to continue abusing minors.

Many of the accused priests and several bishops who had participated in the alleged cover-up were forced to resign or were defrocked.[52] Several dioceses made financial settlements with the victims totaling over 1 billion dollars, which had a significant impact on their finances, resulting closure of schools and parishes for many of them to raise the funds to make payments.[2]

Guido's studyEdit

Rev. Joseph J. Guido, a psychology professor at Providence College, surveyed superiors of a Catholic religious order and found that 83% of the North American superiors reported being aware of an accusation of sexual abuse against one or more of their priests. In contrast, 43% of superiors in America and the Caribbean reported being aware of such an accusation. Only one-third of the superiors in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. In America magazine, a Jesuit weekly, Guido wrote that research suggests ... that the sexual abuse of children is a problem for the church everywhere." However, he wrote that, outside North America, the religious order superiors were more likely to be aware of sexual misconduct by priests with adults, rather than with minors.

John Jay ReportEdit

Main article: John Jay Report

In 2004, The John Jay Report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was based on surveys completed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. The Report determined that, during the period from 1950–2002, a total of 10,667 individuals had made allegations of child sexual abuse. Of these, the dioceses had been able to substantiate 6,700 accusations against 4,392 priests in the USA, about 4% of all 109,694 priests who served during the time period covered by the study.[53] The number of alleged abuses increased in the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s, declined in the 1980s and by the 1990s had returned to the levels of the 1950s.[19] The surveys filtered provided information from diocesan files on each priest accused of sexual abuse and on each of the priest's victims, to the research team so that they did not have access to the names of the accused priests or the dioceses where they worked. The dioceses were encouraged to issue reports of their own based on the surveys that they had completed. Of the 4,392 priests who were accused, police were contacted regarding 1,021 individuals and of these, 384 were charged resulting in 252 convictions and 100 prison sentences. 3,300 were not investigated because the allegations were made after the accused priest had died. Thus, 6% of all priests against whom allegations were made were convicted and about 2% received prison sentences to date.[5][54] According to the John Jay report, one-third of the accusations were made in the years 2002 and 2003. Another third of the allegations were reported between 1993 and 2001.[19]

Legal cases and effectsEdit

Immunity requests of Vatican and PopeEdit

Main article: John V. Doe v. Holy See

William McMurry, a Louisville, Kentucky lawyer, filed suit against the Vatican[55] in June 2004 on behalf of three men alleging abuse as far back as 1928, accusing Church leaders of organizing a cover up of cases of sexual abuse of children. In November, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals in Cincinnati denied the Vatican's claim of sovereign immunity and allowed the case to proceed. The Vatican did not appeal the ruling.

However, when Pope Benedict was personally accused in a lawsuit of conspiring to cover up the molestation of three boys in Texas by Juan Carlos Patino-Arango in Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, he sought and obtained diplomatic immunity from prosecution.[56] Some have claimed that this immunity was granted after intervention by then US President George W. Bush.[57] The Department of State "recognize[d] and allow[ed] the immunity of Pope Benedict XVI from this suit."[58]

Compensation payments, bankruptcies and closuresEdit

Main article: Settlements and bankruptcies in Catholic sex abuse cases

According to Donald Cozzens, "by the end of the mid 1990s, it was estimated that [...] more than half a billion dollars had been paid in jury awards, settlements and legal fees." This figure grew to about one billion dollars by 2002.[59] Roman Catholics spent $615 million on sex abuse cases in 2007.[2][60]

The dioceses in which abuse was committed or in which abuse allegations were settled out of court found it necessary to make financial settlements with the victims totaling over $1.5 billion as of March 2006,[19] have had a significant impact on the finances of many dioceses. The number and size of these settlements made it necessary for the dioceses to reduce their ordinary operating expenses by closing churches, parishes and schools in order to raise the funds to make these payments.[2]

In many instances, dioceses were forced to declare bankruptcy as a result of the settlements. At least six U.S. dioceses sought bankruptcy protection. In some cases, the dioceses filed bankruptcy just before civil suits against them were about to go to trial. This had the effect of mandating that pending and future lawsuits be settled in bankruptcy court.

Resignations, retirements and defrockingsEdit

Many of the accused priests were forced to resign or were defrocked. In addition, several bishops who had participated in the cover up were also forced to resign or retire.[52]

Bernard Francis Law, Cardinal and Archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts, United States resigned after Church documents were revealed which suggested he had covered up sexual abuse committed by priests in his archdiocese.[61] December 13, 2002 Pope John Paul II accepted Law's resignation as Archbishop and reassigned him to an administrative position in the Roman Curia naming him archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and he presided at one of the Pope's funeral masses. Law's successor, Capuchin friar member Bishop Séan P. O'Malley found it necessary to sell substantial real estate properties and close a number of churches in order to pay the $120 million in claims against the archdiocese.

Two bishops of Palm Beach, Florida, resigned due to child abuse allegations, resigned bishop Joseph Keith Symons was replaced by Anthony O'Connell, who later also resigned in 2002.

Prevention effortsEdit

In response to perceived deficiencies in canonical and secular law, both ecclesiastical and civil authorities have implemented procedures and laws to prevent sexual abuse of minors by clergy and to report and punish it if and when it occurs.

In 2002, the U.S. church claimed to adopt a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual abuse.[62][63] By 2008, the U.S. church had trained 5.8 million children to recognize and report abuse. It had run criminal checks on 1.53 million volunteers and employees, 162,700 educators, 51,000 clerics and 4,955 candidates for ordination. It had trained 1.8 million clergy, employees and volunteers in creating a safe environment for children.[64]

Response of Pope BenedictEdit

During a recent visit to the United States Pope Benedict admitted that he is "deeply ashamed" of the clergy sex abuse scandal that has devastated the American church. Benedict pledged that pedophiles would not be priests in the Roman Catholic Church.[65]

Sex abuse scandal in IrelandEdit

Main article: Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Ireland

One of the best known cases of sex abuse in Ireland involved Brendan Smyth, who, between 1945 and 1989, sexually abused and indecently assaulted twenty children in parishes in Belfast, Dublin and the United States.[66] The investigation of the Smyth case was allegedly obstructed by the Norbertine Order. This was also seen in other cases, such as that of Jim Grennan, a parish priest, who abused children as they prepared for First Communion, and Sean Fortune, who committed suicide before his trial for the rape of children.[67] Reviewers of the Smyth case differ as to whether it was a deliberate plot to conceal his behaviour, incompetence by his superiors at Kilnacrott Abbey or some combination of various factors. Cardinal Daly, both as Bishop of Down and Connor, a diocese where some of the abuse took place, and later as Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh, is recorded as having been privately scathing at the Norbertine "incompetence".[68] The abuse by Grennan and others in the Diocese of Ferns in south-east Ireland led to the resignation of the Bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey when similar facts were revealed. His senior associate Monsignor Micheal Ledwith also resigned in 1994 and paid money to a boy who alleged abuse.[69]

In the mid-1990s, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Connell of Dublin lent money to a priest, Ivan Payne, who had abused altar boy Andrew Madden, to be used to pay compensation to Madden for preventing him from reporting the abuse to the police. Connell later claimed never to have paid money to a victim, insisting that he had simply lent money to a priest who independently used the money to pay off his victim.[70]

Ferns ReportEdit

The Ferns Inquiry (2005) was an official Irish government inquiry into the allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the Irish Roman Catholic Diocese of Ferns. The Inquiry recorded its revulsion at the extent, severity and duration of the child sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated on children by priests acting under the aegis of the Diocese of Ferns.[71] The investigation was established in the wake of the broadcast of a BBC Television documentary "Suing the Pope", which highlighted the case of Seán Fortune, one of the most notorious clerical sexual offenders.[72] O'Gorman, through One in Four, the organization he founded to support women and men who have experienced sexual violence, successfully campaigned for the Ferns Inquiry.

Ryan ReportEdit

In November 2009, an independent report of Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse commissioned by the Irish government investigated the way in which the church dealt with allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests over the period 1975 to 2004 about Sexual abuse scandal in Dublin archdiocese. Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse's lengthy report [Ryan report] detailing cases of emotional, physical and sexual abuse of hundreds of children over 70 years was published on 20 May 2009.[73] It concluded that:

"the Dublin Archdiocese's pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State".

Ireland's national police force announced that they would study the report to see if it provided any new evidence for prosecuting clerics for assault, rape or other criminal offenses. The report, however, did not identify any of the alleged abusers by name because of a right-to-privacy lawsuit by the Christian Brothers order. Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin slammed Irish Catholic orders for concealing their culpability in decades of child abuse and asserted that much more money would be needed to compensate victims.[74].

Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen said he is "ashamed by the extent, length, and cruelty" of child abuse, apologized to victims for the government's failure to intervene in endemic sexual abuse and severe beatings in schools for much of the 20th century. He also promised to reform the Ireland's social services for children in line with the recommendations of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse report.[75] Irish President Mary McAleese and Cowen made further motions to start criminal investigation against members of Roman Catholic religious orders in Ireland.[76]

Murphy reportEdit

In 2009, The Murphy Report is the result of the public inquiries conducted by Irish government into the Sexual abuse scandal in Dublin archdiocese, a few months after the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse chaired by Irish judge Seán Ryan, a similar inquiry which dealt with abuses in industrial schools controlled by Catholic religious orders.

Sex abuse cases in other countriesEdit

Main article: Roman Catholic sex abuse cases by country


Julio Grassi was found guilty by a three-judge panel of the Criminal Court Oral 1 Morón, of one count of sexual abuse and one count of corrupting a minor in the “Happy Children’s Foundation”[77] and sentenced to 15 years in prison as the third member of the Roman Catholic Church in Argentina to be convicted of sexually abusing minors, yet maintained his plea of innocence of the charge and promised to appeal.[78][79] Allegations of sexual abuse on 47 young seminarists surfaced in 1994 in Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz archdiocese.[80]


Main article: Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Australia

Over a dozen priests of Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Townsville, Ballarat, Bunbury, Wagga Wagga and Marist Fathers of Tasmania, convicted for sexual abuse.

Pope Benedict's StatementEdit

Main article: Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Australia#Pope Benedict's Statement

On July 19, 2008 and before a congregation of 3,400 assembled in Sydney's St. Mary's Cathedral, Pope Benedict XVI stated that he is "deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured" and added that those responsible "deserve unequivocal condemnation" and "must be brought to justice". The Pope, however, avoided a direct apology and did not state or imply that the institutional church or any of its leaders accepted any degree of responsibility for the abuse that took place.[81]

On July 21, Pope Benedict met with two male and two female victims of sex abuse by priests, listened to their stories and celebrated mass with them. Chris MacIsaac of the victims' rights advocacy group Broken Rites said "the Pope had taken his apology further than his previous comments on the issue" but expressed disappointment that "the Pope had not made his apology directly to sexual abuse victims" claiming "what they've done is selected victims who have agreed with what the Church's policies are" and he "should have met with Anthony Foster, the father of two girls abused by a priest, who cut short a holiday in Britain to return to Australia in the hope of meeting the pontiff." Mark Fabbro, a victim of abuse and member of the Catholic Abuse Survivors Collective, said while he was “happy to receive the apology, we still consider it indirect and insufficient”. [82] [83][84][85]


Main article: Sexual abuse scandal in Vienna archdiocese

In 1995 Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër resigned from his post as Archbishop of Vienna over allegations of sexual abuse. In 1998 he left the country, yet remained a Cardinal. [86]


Main article: Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Canada

In 1988, there were allegations of widespread abuse of children at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland. The religious order that ran the orphanage filed for bankruptcy in the face of numerous lawsuits. Since the Mount Cashel scandal erupted, a number of priests across the country have been accused of sexual abuse. In 1992, the Canadian Catholic bishops unveiled tough guidelines - calling for "responding fairly and openly" to all allegations, stressing the need to "respect" the jurisdiction of outside authorities, and recommending counselling and compassion for the victims.

In February 2009, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled that the Roman Catholic Church in St. John’s was responsible ("vicariously liable") for the sexual abuse of eight former altar boys by disgraced priest, Reverend James Hickey.[87]

The Christian Brothers have paid out approximately $35 million (Canadian) in compensation.[88]

Catholic sex abuse cases by ordersEdit

Main article: Abuse by priests in Roman Catholic orders

As distinct from abuse by some parish priests, under diocesan control, there have also been sexual abuse cases concerning those in Roman Catholic orders, which often care for the sick or teach school.[89]

Response of the ChurchEdit

Main article: Ecclesiastical response to Catholic sex abuse cases

The Catholic Church responded to the scandal can be viewed on three levels: the diocesan level, the episcopal conference level and the Vatican. Responses to the scandal proceeded at all three levels in parallel, with the higher levels becoming progressively more involved as the gravity of the problem became more apparent.

In 2008, the Church asserted that the scandal was a very serious problem but, at the same time, estimated that it was "probably caused by 'no more than 1 per cent' (or 5,000) of the over 500,000 Roman Catholic priests worldwide.[4][5][90]

Before the Boston Globe coverage of the sexual abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese, handling of sexual abuse allegations was largely left up to the discretion of individual bishops. After the number of allegations exploded following the Globe's series of articles, U.S. bishops felt compelled to formulate a coordinated response at the episcopal conference level.

In 2009, two researchers reported that abuse cases had "steeply declined" after 1985; that responses to abuse had changed substantially over 50 years, with suspension becoming more common than reinstatement.[91][92]

Although the Vatican did not respond immediately to the series of articles published by the Boston Globe in 2002, it has been reported that Vatican officials were, in fact, monitoring the situation in the U.S. closely.[93] Over time, it became more apparent that the problem warranted greater Vatican involvement.

Diocesan responses to the problemEdit

Section: #Resignations, retirements and defrockings

For the most part, responding to allegations of sexual abuse in a diocese was left to the jurisdiction of the bishop or archbishop. Many of the accused priests were forced to resign or were defrocked. In addition, several bishops who had participated in the cover-up were also forced to resign or retire.[52]

The dioceses in which abuse was committed or in which abuse allegations were settled out of court found it necessary to make financial settlements with the victims totaling over $1.5 billion as of March 2006.[19] The number and size of these settlements made it necessary for the dioceses to reduce their ordinary operating expenses by closing churches and schools. Several dioceses chose to declare chapter 11 bankruptcy as a way to litigate settlements while protecting some church assets to insure it continues to operate.

Response of the US Conference of Catholic BishopsEdit

Main article: Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People

As the breadth and depth of the scandals became apparent in dioceses across the United States, it became apparent to the American bishops that a joint response was warranted at the episcopal conference level. John F. Allen Jr. characterized the reaction of the USCCB as calling for “swift, sure and final punishment for priests who are guilty of this kind of misconduct.” In contrast to this, Allen characterized the Vatican's primary concern as wanting to make sure “that everyone’s rights are respected, including the rights of accused clergy" and wanting to affirm that it is not acceptable to "remedy the injustice of sexual abuse with the injustice of railroading priests who may or may not be guilty.”[93]

In June 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) unanimously approved a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that pledged the Catholic Church in the U.S. to providing a "safe environment" for all children in Church-sponsored activitie.s The thrust of the charter was the adoption of a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual abuse.[62][63] The USCCB instituted reforms to prevent future abuse by requiring background checks for Church employees.[14] They now require dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty.[14][94]

While the Church in the United States claims to have addressed the issue, some disagree. In 2005, Dr. Kathleen McChesney of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that the crisis was not yet over because hundreds of victims across the country were still reporting past episodes of abuse. She said: "In 2004, at least 1,092 allegations of sexual abuse were made against at least 756 Catholic priests and deacons in the United States. Most of the alleged incidents occurred between 1965 and 1974. What is over is the denial that this problem exists, and what is over is the reluctance of the Church to deal openly with the public about the nature and extent of the problem."[21]

Criticism of USCCBEdit

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops convened a meeting in Dallas on June 12, 2002 to address the sex abuse scandal. However, a Dallas Morning News article claimed nearly two-thirds of the bishops attending had themselves at one point covered for sexually abusive priests.[95]

John Jay studyEdit

Main article: John Jay Report

In June 2002 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Dallas and approved The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People which created a "National Review Board" engaged the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York to conduct a descriptive study analyzing allegations, nature and scope of the sexual abuse of minors in Catholic dioceses in United States between 1950-2002, with the full cooperation of the dioceses/eparchies. The product of the study was a report titled The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States or John Jay Report indicated that some 11,000 allegations had been made against 4,392 priests in the USA, which constituted approximately 4% of the 110,000 priests who had served during 1950–2002,[96] 3% of all priests against whom allegations were made were convicted and about 2% received prison sentences[20] and over the 52-year period covered by the study, "the problem was indeed widespread and affected more than 95% of the dioceses and approximately 60% of religious communities."[20]

Vatican's responseEdit

Initial responseEdit

John F. Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, has commented that many American Catholics saw the Vatican’s initial silence on the Boston Globe stories as showing a lack of concern or awareness about the issue. However, Allen said that, he doesn't know anyone in the Roman Curia, who was not at least horrified "by the revelations that came out of the Globe and elsewhere" or would defend "Cardinal Law’s handling of the cases in Boston" or "the rather shocking lack of oversight that revealed itself" though "they might have different analyses of what should have happened to him".[93] Allen described the Vatican's perspective as being somewhat skeptical of the media handling of the scandal. In addition, he asserted that the Vatican viewed American cultural attitudes toward sexuality as being somewhat hysterical as well as exhibiting a lack of understanding of the Catholic Church.[93] According to Allen, cultural differences between the Vatican and American Catholics complicated the process of formulating a comprehensive response to the sexual abuse scandal: "there is a lot about the American culture and the American Church that puzzles people in the Vatican, and there is much about the Vatican that puzzles Americans and English speakers generally."[93]

Response of the Pope John Paul IIEdit

On April 30, 2001, John Paul II, issued a letter stating that "a sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue by a cleric with a minor under 18 years of age is to be considered a grave sin, or 'delictum gravius.'"[97] In 2003, Pope John Paul II stated that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young".[9]

Response of the Pope Benedict XVIEdit

Further information: #Australia

In addition, during a visit to the United States Pope Benedict XVI said that he is "deeply ashamed" of the clergy sex abuse scandal that has devastated the American church and apologized for the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and pledged that pedophiles would not be allowed to become priests in the Catholic Church.[98]

Pope Benedict also said he is ashamed for child abuse scandal in Australia.

Response of Holy SeeEdit

In a statement, read out by Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 22 September 2009, the Holy See stated that the majority of Catholic clergy who had committed acts of sexual abuse against under 18 year olds should not be viewed as paedophiles but homosexuals who are attracted to sex with adolescent males.

The statement said that rather than pedophilia, it would "be more correct" to speak of ephebophilia; being a homosexual attraction to adolescent males ....... "Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17."[99][100]

The move angered many gay rights organisations, who claimed it was an attempt by the Vatican to redefine the Church's past problems with pedophilia as problems with homosexuality.[101]

Vatican Conference on Sexual Abuse in 2003Edit

In April 2003, the Pontifical Academy for Life organized a three-day conference, entitled "Abuse of Children and Young People by Catholic Priests and Religious", where eight non-Catholic psychiatric experts were invited to speak to near all Vatican dicasteries' representatives. The panel of experts overwhelmingly opposed implementation of policies of "zero-tolerance" such as was proposed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. One expert called such policies a "case of overkill" since they do not permit flexibility to allow for differences among individual cases.[97] The panel of experts identified the following factors contributing to the sexual abuse problem:[102] 1. Failure by the hierarchy to grasp the seriousness of the problem, 2. Overemphasis on the need to avoid a scandal, 3. Use of unqualified treatment centers, 4. Misguided willingness to forgive, 5. Insufficient accountability.

Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, secretary of the Congregation for Clergy, asked the experts: "[T]o what degree one can talk about the rehabilitation of the offender, what are the most effective methods of treatment, and on what grounds we can say that a person who has never offended is at risk to sexually molest someone?" He talked about the damaging effects of the crisis for the priest-bishop relationship, the "sense of gloom" felt by priests in good standing, who "perceive their bishops to have turned against them" and "have become disillusioned about the effectiveness of the laws of the Church to defend their dignity and their inalienable rights", noting "there have been more than a few suicides among accused priests."[97][103]

New rules regarding ordinationEdit

Because a significant majority of victims were teenage boys, the Vatican instituted reforms to prevent future United States abuse by requiring background checks for Church employees[14] and issued new rules disallowing ordination of men with "deep–seated homosexual tendencies".[8][16] They now require dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty.[14][104]

Criticism of coverage by the mediaEdit

Differing perspectives and misconceptions contributed to negative public opinion in the U.S. towards the what was perceived as the failure of the Catholic hierarchy to respond adequately to allegations of sexual abuse and the seemingly sluggish response of the Vatican to the unfolding scandal. Some sources argue that the negative public opinion was fueled in part by statements made to the media by various parties with differing agendas including lawyers for those suing the Church for damages resulting the alleged sexual abuse. As the public furor over the scandal grew, some members of the Catholic Church began to see an anti-Catholic agenda behind some of these pronouncements.

Criticism of media coverage by Catholics and others centred on an excessive focus being placed on Catholic incidences of abuse. Such voices argue that equal or greater levels of child sexual abuse in other religious groups or in secular contexts such as the US public school system have been either ignored or given minimal coverage by mainstream media.[105][106] Commentator Tom Hoopes wrote:

during the first half of 2002, the 61 largest newspapers in California ran nearly 2,000 stories about sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, mostly concerning past allegations. During the same period, those newspapers ran four stories about the federal government’s discovery of the much larger — and ongoing — abuse scandal in public schools.[107]

Philip Jenkins claims that the Roman Catholic Church is being unfairly singled out by a secular media which he claims fails to highlight similar sexual accusations in other religious groups, such as the Anglican Communion, Islam and Judaism, and various Protestant churches, communities. Jenkins asserted that media coverage of the abuse story had become "..a gross efflorescence of anti-catholic rhetoric."[108]

Awareness and views of CatholicsEdit

A study conducted by Georgetown University Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in 2006 found that, although many Catholics are unaware of the specific steps that the church as taken, when informed large majorities approve these actions. 78% strongly approved of reporting allegations of sexual abuse by clergy to civil authorities and cooperating in civil investigations. 76% strongly approved of removing from ministry people credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.[109][110][97]

Debate over the causes of the sexual abuseEdit

Main article: Debate on the causes of clerical child abuse

Seminary trainingEdit

Clergy themselves have suggested their seminary training offered little to prepare them for a lifetime of celibate sexuality. Rome's Congregation for Catholic Education issued an official document, the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocation for Persons with Homosexual Tendencies[111] in 2005, which attracted criticism based on an interpretation that the document implies that homosexuality leads to pedophilia.[112]

Declining standards explanationEdit

In The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church,George Weigel claims that it was the infidelity to orthodox Roman Catholic teaching, the "culture of dissent" of priests, women religious, bishops, theologians, catechists, Church bureaucrats, and activists who "believed that what the Church proposed as true was actually false" was mainly responsible for this problem. [113] Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, blamed the declining morals of the late 20th century as a cause of the high number of sexually abusive priests.[114]

Ultra-conservative Roman Catholics claimed that the Second Vatican Council itself (1962–1965) fostered a climate that encouraged priests to abuse children.[citation needed] The council directed an opening of the doors to meet the world. However traditional Roman Catholics believe that this led to a conversion of Roman Catholics to secularism rather than vice versa.[citation needed] Others respond that abuse by priests was occurring long before the start of Vatican II and that many of the Roman Catholic sex abuse cases did not involve pedophilia. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Other assert that the increased reporting of abuse in child-care institutions during this time was concomitant with rising police interest, investigation and prosecution of such crimes. As such it is not certain that a sudden "crisis of abuse" ever existed, instead the dramatic increase in reported abuse cases may simply have heralded the end of a long-term endemic problem found throughout a number of institutions, both secular and religious, prior to the introduction of quality control measures specifically aimed at preventing such abuses from occurring.[citation needed]

Supply and demand explanationEdit

It has been argued that the shortage of priests in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.[115][116] caused the Roman Catholic hierarchy to act in such a way to preserve the number of clergy and ensure that sufficient numbers were available to serve the congregation despite serious allegations that these priests were unfit for duty. [citation needed] Others disagree and assert that the Church hierarchy's mishandling of the sex abuse cases merely reflected their prevailing attitude at the time towards any illegal or immoral activity by clergy.

Celibacy explanationEdit

A 2005 article in the Western People, proposed that clerical celibacy contributed to the abuse problem by suggesting that the institution of celibacy has created a "morally superior" status that is easily misapplied by abusive priests: "The Irish Church’s prospect of a recovery is zero for as long as bishops continue blindly to toe the Vatican line of Pope Benedict XVI that a male celibate priesthood is morally superior to other sections of society."[117]

Sexual scandals among priests, the defenders say, are a breach of the Church's discipline, not a result of it, especially since only a small percentage of priests have been implicated. Furthermore there is no data supporting a higher rate of child-oriented sexual activity among the unmarried Roman Catholic clergy than that of the married clergy of other denominations[118] and of schoolteachers.[119]. However, for those cases for which data is available, molestation of pre-pubescent children was found to be rare[120]. Consequently opinion remains divided on whether there is any definite link or connection between the Roman Catholic institution of celibacy and incidences of child abuse by Catholic clergy.

Philip Jenkins asserts that his "research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination—or indeed, than non-clergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported."[121] Both supporters and many detractors of clerical celibacy state that Roman Catholic priests suffering sexual temptations are not likely to turn immediately to children simply because Church discipline does not permit clergy to marry.

Abuse in literature and filmsEdit


A number of books have been written, see List of books portraying pedophilia or sexual abuse of minors, about the abuse suffered from priests and nuns including Andrew Madden in Altar Boy: A Story of Life After Abuse, Carolyn Lehman's Strong at the Heart: How it feels to heal from sexual abuse and the bestselling Kathy's Story by Kathy O'Beirne which details physical and sexual abuse suffered in a Magdalene laundry in Ireland. Ed West from Daily Telegraph, claimed Kathy Beirne's story is "largely invented" according to book of Hermann Kelly, who is a Derry born journalist of Irish Daily Mail and former editor of the Irish Catholic, titled Kathy's Real Story from Prefect Press.[122]


The Magdalene laundries caught the public's attention in the late 1990s as claims of widespread abuse from some former inmates gathered momentum and were made the subject a controversial film called The Magdalene Sisters (2002). In 2006, a documentary called Deliver Us From Evil was made about the sex abuse cases and one priest's confession of abuse.

Several other films have been made about sex abuse within the Church, including:

See alsoEdit


Church related
Vatican Documents
Church prevention efforts
Cardinals' abuse cases
Anti abuse
Sexual abuse in other environments


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Additional readingEdit

  • Groeschel, F. Benedict, From Scandal to Hope (OSV, 2002)
  • Jenkins, Philip, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis (Oxford University Press, 2001). ISBN 0-19-514597-6.
  • Lobdell, William, "Missionary's Dark Legacy; Two remote Alaska villages are still reeling from a Catholic volunteer's sojourn three decades ago, when he allegedly molested nearly every Eskimo boy in the parishes. The accusers, now men, are scarred emotionally and struggle to cope. They are seeking justice," Los Angeles Times, Nov 19, 2005, p. A.1
  • Ranan, David, Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church (Theo Press Ltd., 2007) ISBN 978-0-95541-330-8.

External linksEdit



United StatesEdit

John Jay Report related

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