Catholic Church abuse cover-up: demand for independent investigation

Swissinfo [Bern, Switzerland]

September 16, 2023

The investigation ordered by the Swiss Bishops’ Conference into the cover-up of abuse cases should not be carried out by a clergyman. This is the opinion of women who have been dealing with abuse cases in the Catholic Church for years.

Bishop Joseph Bonnemain of Chur, who is responsible at the Bishops’ Conference for coming to terms with sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, said on Swiss public radio, SRF’s, that an external investigation was not planned. He would like it to be admitted that he had honest intentions and that it was not a cover-up.

On the other hand, it was a mistake to entrust the investigation to the Bishop of Chur, said Sylvie Perrinjaquet, President of the French-speaking Switzerland Hearing Commission for Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (CECAR), in an interview with the Neuchâtel daily “Arcinfo”. Bonnemain had to judge his colleagues, whom he had known for decades.

Lack of sensitivity and transparency

“This is a very bad solution,” Perrinjaquet said. In the Catholic Church, he said, there is a culture of secrecy and a problematic attitude towards women and children. Church representatives partly lack the ability to realise that at some point one has to stop denying oneself and admit that there are people in the church who abuse children.

CECAR is an independent and neutral commission that has been accompanying victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church since its foundation in 2015.


Jacqueline Straub caused a sensation in 2018 with her book Kick the Church out of its Coma. The Catholic theologian and journalist finds it “completely absurd” that the Bishop of Chur, as a member of the Bishops’ Conference, is also leading the investigation following the publication of the abuse reportExternal link. He now has to investigate allegations against fellow bishops and there is always a “certain bias”, she said in an interview with the online news media organisation, Schweiz am Wochenende.

“It needs an external special investigator, an independent person or even a group” said Straub. It is problematic, she said, if the Catholic official church wants to clear up the abuse cases and cover-ups on its own. Especially because they often do not proceed transparently. It was only through newspaper research that it came to light that there was an investigation. “The final report is then sent to Rome. What happens then is discussed quietly,” Straub said.

Fundamental renewal of the Church necessary

For Bishop Bonnemain, a fundamental renewal of the Church is needed now that the study on sexual abuses in the Catholic Church has been published. Structures also need to be changed. Church structures would have to change constantly so that such abuses would no longer happen.

The Catholic Church must also undergo a cultural change and return to its core message, Bonnemain said to SRF. The Church must put people at the centre, he said. The nature of the Catholic Church, among other things, with regard to the relationship between leaders and the people of God and the relationship between men and women had been misunderstood by the perpetrators and those responsible, he said.

Changes are also desired by 107 employees of the diocese of St Gallen, who reacted to the publication of the report with a full-page advertisement in the St. Galler Tagblatt newspaper. “We want to be a different church and are committed to this every day,” they stated. In order for something to really change, fundamental mechanisms of the church would have to be addressed. Mentioned here are the question of power, sexual morality, the image of the priest, the role of women, training and personnel policy.