Fighting for the Future

The Center for Constitutional Rights

I. General Considerations: Overview

As a result of the efforts of survivors and advocates who have come forward in different countries over the past few decades, often with considerable personal sacrifice and risk, the widespread and systemic rape and sexual violence of children by priests and others associated with the Roman Catholic Church is now well-documented and incontrovertible.4 The revelations of sexual violence by clergy arising in recent years in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, the United States and elsewhere demonstrate that the rates of abuse in any one country or diocese are not an anomaly but part of a much larger pattern and practice. In light of these revelations, some observers have estimated that the number of victims of sexual violence occurring between the years 1981-2005 is likely approaching 100,000, and will likely be far greater as more situations continue to come to light in Latin America and Africa.5

Commissions of inquiry and grand juries have been convened in Canada,6 Australia,7 and Germany,8 as well as the United States, some of which will be discussed below. Ireland has seen a number of inquiries, resulting in the Ferns Report,9 the Ryan Report,10 the Murphy Report,11 and the Cloyne Report.12 There have also been Church-appointed commissions, as well as non-governmental reports setting forth widespread and systematic sexual violence within the Catholic church, in Belgium,13 Germany,14 The Netherlands,15 and the United States. In September 2011, Amnesty International issued a report finding that the abused of children in Catholic-run institutions in Ireland amounted to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.16

Every investigative body that has studied these situations has identified the same policies and practices that allowed the sexual violence to proliferate and that furthered the harm to the direct victims. Without exception, each of these inquiries has reached the same inevitable conclusion: The primary concern of Church officials in these cases has been to protect the reputation of the Church and its priests – not the best interest of the child. This conclusion was perhaps most succinctly expressed by a grand jury in the United States when it observed that Church authorities “continued and/or established policies that made the protection of the Church from ‘scandal’ more important than the protection of children from sexual predators.”17 Similarly, the Ryan Commission in Ireland found that: 2 Cases of sexual abuse were managed with a view to minimizing the risk of public disclosure and consequent damage to the institution and the Congregation. This policy resulted in the protection of the perpetrator. When lay people were discovered to have sexually abused, they were generally reported to the Gardai.

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