EXPLAINED: The ugly face of Child sexual abuse in Catholic church

WION (World Is One News) [New Delhi, India]

February 16, 2023

By Heena Sharma


Child sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic clergy is plaguing several countries for decades now. The tragic tales sometimes take an entire lifetime to come to the surface. The ugly face of it, the laws behind and the system loopholes, which reek itself in injustice. Know everything about the paedophilia scandal. 

An investigation by an independent commission recently has unearthed the dirty face of child abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy in Portugal. The horrifying testimonies of the survivors become the ground of the commission’s inquiry. The commission with the help of a large network of victims was able to make a deeper cut into finding out the ongoing paedophilia in the staunchly Catholic country. 

The Portuguese inquiry which was commissioned by the church revealed that there are about 5,000 children who have become victims of child abuse since 1950. The report comes after the testimony of over 500 survivors last year. Commission head, Pedro Strecht, responded to the inquiry findings saying “This testimony allows us to establish a much larger network of victims, at least 4,815.” 

To do away with this gruesome malice, the country’s bishop will reportedly convene in March. As per reports, the time for the majority of the offenders has passed its limit for bringing about the charges but 25 of these cases have been transferred to the prosecution service.

Victims’ voices 

Many victims have come forward to unlock their pain in front of the commission and recount the horror they have lived. A 43-year-old woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity has alleged that a priest raped her during confession when she was just a 17-year-old novice nun.

The woman revealed that she kept it a secret for a long time because of her deep-seated fear of speaking out against the clergies in a largely Catholic country. At one point, she said she mustered up the courage to bring culprits to justice but no one did anything to help her.

She expressed her anger saying that a bishop asking for forgiveness for his sins does not hold any meaning for her. “We don’t know if they mean it,” she said adding, “The church needs to cleanse itself.” 

But this is not just Europe…

The child abuse cases which has now come to light in Portugal are nothing new as these accusations have been emerging every now and then from all across the world. Data exposes the magnanimity of the situation which can make anyone sit up and notice. The United States, too, have its own share of the burden when it comes to tackling these child abuse scandals carried out by the priests and the Catholic churches. 

For instance, the legal bearing of the lawsuits got pretty real for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego. As per reports, now the diocese may soon become bankrupt as it stares down “staggering” legal costs thanks to about 400 lawsuits against its priests for allegedly sexually abusing children. 

The Diocese in a statement said that a whopping $550 million in legal charges are against priests who are not presently serving.

All these cases, as per Diocese, were filed after a 2019 bill which make it possible for child sexual abuse victims in California to no longer face deadlines to file civil claims. At the time, California State Representative Dawn Addis in her remarks said that it’s “time to end this arbitrary and cruel time limit on justice.” 

What is the new law? 

Under the previous law, minor sexual assault survivors only had until their 40th birthday to seek justice in civil court however with the new bill the time limit is now dropped. It has opened floodgates as most of the alleged abuses were reportedly cited in the suits that took place 50 to 75 years ago. These child abuse victims just do not come forward by that age sometimes.  

The data suggests that in New York, nearly 11,000 cases were filed in state courts seeking to hold Catholic dioceses responsible for sexual abuse by clergy. And it is interesting to note that like in California mass sexual abuse litigations are being filed all across US. 

A total of 23 states, along with two territories and Washington, D.C., have passed laws that suspend statutes of limitations for sexual-abuse victims. However, there is one more loophole, the way the bankruptcy claims-filing procedures are. 

The loopholes in the Bankruptcy filings 

Judges who look at these filings in the Bankruptcy courts sometimes set up their own deadlines. This becomes an issue because when the victim misses the deadline they get nothing or they get only some of the claim from the accumulated amounts for unknown claimants. 

In December 2019, Pope Francis in a bid to crack down on sexual abuse cases abolished the rule of pontifical secrecy. The changes let go of a practice of keeping silent on those who report sexual abuse or allege they have been a victim. At the time, Pope Francis vowed zero tolerance saying he will come down heavily on stopping the abuse. Even so, there are growing voices which continues to call for more to put an end to it all.