La Croix International [France]
February 15, 2023
By Juliette Paquier
The Catholic Church in Portugal is the latest in Europe to investigate historic cases of sex abuse. Here’s what others on the Old Continent have done.
After more than a year of interviews and investigations, Portugal’s independent commission on Church-related sexual violence against minors this week published the conclusions of its investigations. The report, which was released on Monday, looks at cases of abuse dating back to 1950.
Several other countries in Europe have already conducted similar investigations. But there are some who are still reluctant to do so. Here’s a quick look at the situation.
In Portugal, the independent commission for the prevention of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults was set up by the Catholic bishops’ conference in November 2021.
Composed of qualified lay people and “some non-Catholics”, the commission collected more than 500 validated testimonies, although the revelations involve a total number of victims estimated to be at least 4,815, according to the figure released Monday.
In Spain, the issue of sexual abuse in the Church came under scrutiny following the publication in 2021 of an investigation by the national daily El País. After several months of procrastination, and under political pressure, the Church finally commissioned a lawyer to conduct an audit on the subject in February 2022.
According to initial estimates released in July 2022, “between 1,000 and 2,000 cases” have been identified, with most of the complaints dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. At the same time, Spanish MPs voted in March 2022 to create a parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate the matter. Its conclusions are expected in the coming weeks.
The Spanish bishops also set up a platform last October to report and better prevent the abuse of minors within the institution.
In France, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), chaired by the high magistrate Jean-Marc Sauvé, submitted its conclusions on October 5, 2021, after nearly two years of investigation. The final report estimated that 330,000 minors have been victims of priests, religious and people working in Catholic institutions since 1950.
In Germany, an investigation entrusted to three universities in 2014 concluded that more than 3,600 children had been victimized between 1946 and 2014 by approximately 1,700 religious, or 4.4 percent of the clergy. Another investigation conducted in 2017 found that at least 547 children in the Regensburg Cathedral Choir were allegedly abused between 1945 and the early 1990s.
Benedict XVI, who died in December, was also questioned in early 2022 for his handling of pedocriminality in Germany when he was archbishop of Munich.
According to a report on this diocese, at least 497 people, mostly young boys and teenagers, were victims of assault between 1945 and 2019. Also, according to another report from June 2022, at least 610 children were sexually assaulted by clerics in the Münster diocese over a period of 75 years.
In Belgium, several bodies have worked on the issue since the early 2000s. In 2010, a first report by the Adriaenssens Commission received 488 complaints incriminating 320 perpetrators of sexual abuse.
Nine years later, in February 2019, the Church published a report on sexual abuse of minors within the Church, which listed 1,000 new complaints filed with the “arbitration center” created by the institution.
In 2010, following several press reports of sexual abuse, the Bishops’ Conference of the Netherlands and the Conference of Dutch Religious Institutes announced that they wanted a “comprehensive, external and independent” investigation.
The final report, which was released 18 months later, said approximately one in ten Dutch people aged 40 and over have been abused by someone outside their family. Among the alleged victims, “several tens of thousands of minors” were sexually abused within the Catholic Church between 1945 and 2010.
The Catholic Church in Ireland was a pioneer in the fight against sexual abuse of minors. In 2009, a national commission charged with investigating all youth institutions revealed in the Ryan Report, named after the judge in charge of the investigation, that more than 2,000 children had been abused in 216 facilities run by religious orders. It is one of the most thorough investigations conducted on the continent. Eight hundred abusers, including priests, were incriminated.
The Catholic Church in Italy has refused to conduct an independent investigation, but several lay associations have spoken out on the subject. Nine of them joined together in February 2022 to demand the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry on the model of France’s CIASE.
And just a few weeks ago the Italian association Rete l’ABUSO, in conjunction with the international association ECA Global (Ending Clergy Abuse), published a report listing 418 cases of priests convicted or accused of sexual violence against minors over the past 13 years.
In Poland, a document released in 2021 by the state commission on pedocriminality revealed that between 2017 and 2020, 30% of sexual abuse of minors was committed by Catholic priests and religious. The Polish Church had already been shaken by the 2019 release of a documentary on the subject, authored and directed by journalist Tomasz Sekielski.
In the wake of this documentary, the Catholic bishops published a document reporting 382 cases of sexual abuse in the Church, a figure widely criticized by victims’ associations, who considered it underestimated. Hundreds of complaints of sexual assaults on minors committed by clergy have also been filed in the country since 2018.