Pope Francis has condemned clerical sex abuse as an “absolute monstrosity,” and asked victims and their families for forgiveness on behalf of the Catholic Church.
In an unusual move, the pontiff’s comments were published as a preface to a new book by Daniel Pittet, a Swiss victim who was sexually abused for four years by a priest when he was a child.
The Vatican has launched a website as part of its efforts to protect children from clerical sexual abuse and promote healing and reconciliation.
It’s the first time that the Vatican has published resources and documents on the issue, and the site is sponsored by the commission set up by Pope Francis to protect minors.
Pope Francis says he will not address sexual abuse allegations against the Vatican’s finance minister, Cardinal George Pell, until Australian judicial authorities complete their investigation.
In a press conference on the papal flight returning from World Youth Day in Poland late July 31, the pontiff said the allegations against Pell “are in the hands of the justice system” and the cardinal should not be judged “before the justice system judges.”
A single chime rang out after each abuse victim’s statement was read over the speakers at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Kansas City, a solemn echo to enduring pain.
It was a simple, symbolic gesture but one that had an almost inexpressible resonance for those who had been abused, and for many Catholics in a diocese so identified with clergy abuse that its last bishop was forced to resign.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, head of the Archdiocese of Boston, whose record on clergy sex abuse was uncovered by The Boston Globe and portrayed in this year’s Oscar-winning film Spotlight, has praised the movie for forcing the Catholic Church to acknowledge its “crimes and sins.”
“Spotlight is an important film for all impacted by the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse,” said O’Malley, who was named to the archdiocese after Cardinal Bernard Law was forced from office in 2002 following revelations that church officials protected abusive priests.
It is just a single line of dialogue from Spotlight, up for Best Picture and five other Academy Awards Feb. 28, but it could be a movie in itself. It’s an allusion to an entire unknown chapter in the history of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals: the role of National Catholic Reporter in first uncovering the clerical conspiracy to shield abusing priests.
“Have you read Jason Berry’s book? He wrote about the Gauthe case,” an abuse survivor asks the team of investigative reporters featured in the film.
Catholic clergy have a “moral and ethical responsibility” to report sexual abuse, the cardinal tasked with reforming the Vatican’s approach to sexual crimes said after criticism of the Holy See. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley sought to reaffirm the church’s position on reporting abuse in his role as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which Pope Francis set up in 2014.
The Vatican commission on clerical sexual abuse has wrapped up a turbulent week-long meeting during which one of two victims on the panel was effectively ousted and Chilean Catholics upset that Pope Francis has not sacked a controversial bishop delivered protest letters. But a statement released on Feb. 8 at the end of the biannual meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors made no mention of its decision on Feb. 6 that Peter Saunders, a clerical abuse victim from Britain, would take a “leave of absence.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Duluth announced on Dec. 7 that it had filed for bankruptcy protection following a jury verdict last month that held the Minnesota diocese responsible for more than half of an $8.1 million judgment on behalf of a victim of sex abuse by a priest.
The Chapter 11 filing makes Duluth the 13th of nearly 200 U.S. Catholic dioceses to file for bankruptcy since 2004 because of the clergy sex abuse scandals. Regional organizations of two religious orders have also sought bankruptcy protection.
The Duluth award was one of the highest single monetary compensations for a survivor of clergy abuse, experts said. It was made possible thanks to a Minnesota law that lifted the statute of limitations on civil claims for sex abuse.
The British government is launching an independent five-year inquiry under the leadership of a prominent New Zealand-born jurist to examine whether private and public institutions, including churches, failed to protect children from sex abuse.
At a news conference in London on Nov. 27, Justice Lowell Goddard, who will head the inquiry, said the investigation would focus on high-profile allegations of child abuse involving current or former members of Parliament, senior civil servants, and government advisers.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby asked Goddard to investigate the Church of England first, saying that he would order his own inquiry if there was a lengthy delay, the Anglican Communion News Service reported.
Yoder became a superstar at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., where he taught for 24 years, respected and admired by fellow church members and Christians who were not Mennonite. Yet, at the same time, he was preying on women, many of them his students. A report has revealed a range of sexual offenses, starting in the mid-1970s, as well as the church’s efforts to keep them quiet.
An outside watchdog group hired to investigate sex abuse claims at Bob Jones University issued its 300-page report on Dec. 11, concluding that the conservative Christian school responded poorly to many students who were victims of sexual assault or abuse.
Bob Jones, with about 3,000 students at its campus in Greenville, S.C., tapped Lynchburg, Va.-based GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) in November 2012 to investigate claims about sexual assualt. During its two-year investigation, GRACE interviewed 50 individuals who self-identified as victims of sexual abuse.
Some of those students claimed they were victims on campus; others said they were dealing with child sexual abuse but received a poor reception from campus officials as they struggled with their past.
The school’s teachings on sin, forgiveness, discipline, and justice shaped how Bob Jones University responded to sexual assault, the report argues.
“As a result of the school’s poor responses, many of these students were deeply hurt and experienced further trauma,” a press release from GRACE states.
When victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests first organized into a small band of volunteer activists in the late 1980s, reports of clergy molesting children were still new and relatively few. Most were minimized as anomalies or dismissed altogether — much the way the victims were.
But today, as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, marks its 25th anniversary at a conference in Chicago, its members can take satisfaction in seeing that its claims have been validated, and a few (though hardly all) of its recommendations have been implemented by the church hierarchy.
And instead of facing constant verbal attacks and the occasional angry parishioner spitting on them at a protest, SNAP’s members today are far more likely to receive a handshake and a word of thanks, and maybe even a donation.
SNAP’s advocacy on the Catholic scandal also helped push the reality of sexual abuse into the public consciousness to the point that victims can regularly win in courts and get a hearing in the media, and they are much more likely to come forward to tell their stories, whether they were abused by clergy or by athletic coaches or Boy Scout leaders.
Yet that success is also presenting SNAP with a daunting new challenge as it looks to the future: how to respond to a flood of new inquiries from victims from other faiths and institutions, and how to push for changes beyond the familiar precincts of the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday.
“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson replied. “I understand today it’s a crime.”
Anderson went on to ask Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was crime for a priest to engage in sex with a child.
“I’m not sure if I did or didn’t,” Carlson said.
In his strongest personal remarks yet on the clergy sex abuse scandal, Pope Francis on Friday asked forgiveness “for the damage” that abusive priests have inflicted on children and pledged that the Catholic Church “will not take one step backward” in efforts to address the crisis.
“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil that some priests — quite a few in number, though not compared to the total number — and to ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done by sexually abusing children,” Francis said.
“The church is aware of this damage,” he said. “It is personal and moral damage, but carried out by men of the church. And we do not want to take one step backward in dealing with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I believe that we have to be very firm. Because you cannot take chances with children!”
Bill Gothard, an Illinois-based advocate for home schooling and conservative dress and who warned against rock music and debt, has been placed on administrative leave after allegations of sexually harassing women who worked at his ministry and failing to report child abuse cases.
Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles was once a popular gathering spot for thousands of Christian families, including the Duggar family from TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting. Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute conferences were also popular among devotees of the Quiverfull movement, who promote large families and eschew birth control.
He’s also rubbed shoulders with Republican luminaries. He and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee were photographed at a campaign lunch together; former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue spoke at one of Gothard’s conferences; and Sarah Palin, when she was a small town mayor in Alaska, attended his International Association of Character Cities conferences and declared Wasilla among Gothard’s “Cities of Character.”
After firing an independent watchdog group to investigate allegations of sexual abuse on campus, Bob Jones University has rehired the same group, one month before the findings from a 13-month review were scheduled to be released.
The university had contracted with Lynchburg, Va.-based GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) in November 2012 but suspended the contract on Jan. 27. The university met with GRACE officials Feb. 18-19 to discuss the review.
“GRACE satisfactorily addressed the University’s concerns and Bob Jones University is confident the review can be completed in a timely and professional manner,” the university said in a press release.
Bob Jones University has fired an independent firm hired to investigate sex abuse reports just one month before the group planned to release its 13-month review findings.
The university had contracted with Lynchburg, Va.-based GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) in November 2012.
“Over the last several months, we grew concerned about how GRACE was pursuing our objectives, and on Jan. 27, 2014, BJU terminated its contract with GRACE,” the university said in a press release. “It is BJU’s intention to resolve its differences with GRACE, and we are disappointed a resolution could not be reached before our differences were made public.”
Richard Dawkins, one of the world’s best-known and outspoken atheists, has provoked outrage among child protection agencies and experts after suggesting that recent child abuse scandals have been overblown.
In an interview in The Times magazine on Saturday, Dawkins, 72, he said he was unable to condemn what he called “the mild pedophilia” he experienced at an English school when he was a child in the 1950s.
Referring to his early days at a boarding school in Salisbury, he recalled how one of the (unnamed) masters “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts.”
He said other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher but concluded: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”