February 14, 2023
By Agence France Presse
Portugal on Monday will become the latest country to issue an independent report into clerical sexual abuse, an issue that has dogged the Catholic Church for years and undermined its moral authority.
From Australia to Ireland via the United States, thousands of priests, bishops and cardinals have been caught up in abuse scandals, as well as lay members of the Church such as Catholic school teachers or youth group leaders.
The moment of reckoning in the US came in 2002 when the Boston Globe newspaper published a major investigation into abuses committed by scores of Boston priests, which were covered up by their bishops. Cardinal Bernard Law was forced to resign over the revelations.
Between 1950 and 2018, the US Catholic Church received credible complaints of child sex abuse involving 7,002 members of the clergy, according to the website bishop-accountability.org.
In a first for the Church, Pope Francis in 2019 defrocked former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who admitted to sexually molesting both children and adults.
Another cardinal, Donald Wuerl, resigned after being accused of a cover-up in Pennsylvania, where an investigation found the church had protected over 300 predator priests.
Accusations of clerical sex crimes in Ireland, once deemed the world’s most Catholic country, began surfacing in the 1980s and shook the country to its core.
The number of underage victims of clerical sex abuse is estimated at nearly 15,000 between 1970 and 1990 alone.
A nine-year inquiry into abuse at Church-run institutions found that sexual abuse had been “endemic” in boys’ schools.
The various scandals sparked a fallout between Ireland and the Vatican, which recalled its ambassador in 2011 after the Irish premier at the time, Enda Kenny, accused Rome of obstructing investigations.
During a visit to Ireland in 2018, Pope Francis asked for the victims’ forgiveness.
The biggest scandal in Australia centered on the Vatican’s former finance chief, Cardinal George Pell, who was convicted in 2018 of sexually abusing choirboys in Melbourne in the 1990s.
Pell spent 13 months in prison before the verdict was overturned in 2020. He died in January aged 81.
A commission set up by Australia’s government said in February 2017 that seven percent of all Catholic priests had been accused of abusing children between 1950 and 2010.
France’s biggest scandal centered on Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, who received a six-month suspended jail sentence in 2019 for covering up for a priest, Bernard Preynat, accused of assaulting around 70 scouts in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Barbarin’s conviction was overturned on appeal in 2020, but the pope accepted his resignation. Preynat was jailed for five years in 2020.
In 2021, an independent inquiry revealed that Catholic clergy members had sexually abused around 216,000 minors from 1950 to 2020.
In Germany, the late pope Benedict XVI came under fire last year when an independent report found that he had knowingly failed to take action to stop four priests accused of child sex abuse in Munich.
The ex-pontiff, who as pope was heavily criticised for his failure to end church cover-ups of abuse scandals, was the archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982.
The Chilean Catholic Church has been embroiled in scandal since 2010, when Father Fernando Karadima was first accused of molesting boys in the 1980s and 1990s.
Pope Francis’ failure to address the alleged cover-up of the priest’s actions by Bishop Juan Barros overshadowed his trip to the country in January 2018.
Francis demanded that the bishop’s accusers show proof of the priest’s guilt.
But he later admitted making “grave mistakes” in the case — a first for a pope — and summoned all of Chile’s bishops to the Vatican, after which they all resigned.
The subject of child sexual abuse was largely taboo in staunchly Catholic Poland until 2019, when the church revealed that nearly 400 clergy members had sexually abused minors between 1990 and 2018.
In a second report in June 2021, the church said it had received hundreds more complaints.
The Vatican has sanctioned several bishops and a cardinal for covering up for priests.