Silence is the most powerful scream.
When most of us think of the church, we’re compelled to conjure up saintly images of servants devoting their lives to God.
What the church would prefer us not to think of, are images of priests sexually abusing children as young as three years old; but it’s an image that’s become part of the Catholic church’s narrative over the past century, as molestation allegations have proliferated, revealing widespread abuse and cover-ups.
And while not every church and priest have dirty hands, a startlingly large number do, using their position in the food chain to solicit silence from their community, allowing some of the most dangerous paedophiles to continue practicing, undisputed for decades.
But as Mark Ruffalo’s recent biographical film on The Boston Globe‘s 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning investigation into systemic child sex abuse in the Catholic church, Spotlight, points out, the blame also lies with the legal system. Reports of unspeakable abuse have now been revealed to have been deliberately lost or undocumented by the justice system, either out of greed for the church’s substantial pay-off, or a sentiment a surprising number of civilians would echo: the Catholic church is too powerful to allow these stains to set, no matter how deep they go.
Throughout the 1990s, our news media was flooded with reports on how these cases would be reported, only to have the church respond by shipping the priest off to another parish or ignoring the allegation entirely. Though realistically the abuse likely dates back much further.
Since the 1950s, the church has been sending its priests to centers dedicated to the rehabilitation of priests with ‘personal difficulties’ in an attempt to sweep the ugly issue under the rug. When the media started splashing these sensational headlines, the priesthood had already known about them for at least thirty to forty years without reporting any of their members to the authorities. The few cases the police did catch wind of tended to be hushed, leaving abuse victims feeling like no one wanted to help them. Which sadly, for the most part, was true.
After The Boston Globe‘s groundbreaking investigation dropped, over 3,000 lawsuits were filed against the church, who racked up $30.9 million dollars to the victims of one priest alone.
The cost of ignoring these reports was high, and the church was feeling it. They were haemorrhaging money and desperately needed to reestablish their religious brand to keep money flowing in. Parishes filed for bankruptcy and were unable to maintain themselves due to dwindling members and funds. The 2004 Jay Report stated that of the 10,667 victims reported by 2002, over 2,000 had been under the age of ten; this wasn’t the kind of news the church needed to fill pews or coffers.
You’d think this would spur action, get the Catholic church interested in having transparent trials and start supporting or funding centers dedicated to the protection of child abuse victims and the rehabilitation or incarceration of those who had done harm. Yet the church remains oddly silent.
There’s lots of talk about how these abusers have committed grave sins and how wrong it was for them to cover up said abuse, but what’s being done to prevent future abuse? What guarantees do we have that this won’t happen again?
None, as it turns out.
A recent United Nations report stated that the church seems to be more focused on saving face, than saving children.
“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address the cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators.”
The UN called for all known child molesters to be removed from the church. Their request went ignored.
Despite his strong words about having a “zero tolerance” policy toward sex offenders, Pope Francis has done little more than put more hot air in the world when it comes to actually doing something about the issue. He’s one of the few absolute monarchies left in the world; he could write “Any reports of sex abuse should be immediately reported to the police in every instance,” have it translated into Latin so it could be published on the Acta Apostolicae Sedis and it would instantly become law. It’s as simple as that.
So why hasn’t he done it? Why has he chosen instead to state that the Catholic church has done the most any institution could ever hope to do in regards to being transparent when these priests are still being given access to children? How can the church say it’s truly rehabilitated when abuse cases are still pouring in every day?
Despite what the church would have us believe, their days of sexually abusing children are not in the past. An audit of reports of sexual abuse by church members shows that from as recent as July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015, reports of abuse increased by 35 per cent (from the previous year). Several of these reports are in regards to older allegations from people no longer afraid to come forward about the criminals who victimized them, but 26 of the 838 reports were in regards to recent cases.
The abuse isn’t over. And until the church owns up to the cancer currently eating away at its priesthood and takes a stand on refusing to cover up these revolting attacks on children entrusted into their care, my money’s on a forecast featuring more of the same.
Comment: Do you think the Catholic church should be doing more to prevent – and punish – abuse from within its own ranks?