Catholic Church Takes Action to Stop Sexual Abuse–Or Do They?

The Catholic Church has been accused in the past of dragging their feet on predatory priests. Now, they’re taking steps to show us they’re serious. The U.S. Catholic Church has plunked down $2 million to do the largest study to date on child sexual abuse by clergy.

Their primary finding, released yesterday, was that the Church’s sexual abuse problems were the result of the changing culture in the U.S. during the 1960s and 70s:

The rise in abuse cases in the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by social factors in American society generally. This increase in abusive behavior is consistent with the rise in other types of “deviant” behavior, such as drug use and crime, as well as changes in social behavior, such as an increase in premarital sexual behavior and divorce.

To be fair, the report admits some institutional factors, saying that some dioceses were “laggards” in recognizing sexual abuse and responding to victims. But it is quick to add that the media disproportionately focused on these cases.

It appears that the authors of the report believe the real problem was that hippies and uppity women unsettled the poor priests who weren’t adequately prepared to deal with the winds of change blowing through society. These traumatized priests clearly acted in inappropriate ways but this is what you’d expect when the social mores come undone in a permissive society. God knows they tried to do their best but they were only human.

I was an uppity hippie woman. I knew lots of other hippies, feminists and civil rights activists who would feel terribly guilty for contributing to child sexual abuse–except they don’t because this is absolute, utter nonsense.

The Church expects us to believe this new origin myth. As if child sexual abuse had never occurred in the Church anywhere before. Somehow, it emerged as a result of the counterculture tumult of the 1960’s and 70’s in the United States. That’s pure fantasy and revisionism, or a doctrine of faith, much like the Church’s anti-scientific teaching that the sun revolved around the earth.

Which brings up Galileo, who was imprisoned and excommunicated for suggesting that it didn’t. But before that, when he wasn’t looking through his telescope, he was a supporter of Joseph Calasanz, the patron saint of Catholic schools,  who founded the Piarist Order, whose mission was to educate poor children. Karen Liebreich, author of Fallen Order, reveals how this precursor to the parochial school system collapsed in 1646 due to the sexual abuse of students. She shows how Calasanz covered up the abuse in an attempt to protect the order and the church. It reads like it could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

We know this has been going on for centuries, not decades, not years–centuries. It’s time the Church owned its past and atoned for its sins. Until it honestly faces its history, how can anyone involved in the Church be trusted?

The Vatican too has just taken a public step to show they’re serious about catching abuse. They’ve sent a sternly worded letter to all bishops’ conferences worldwide establishing a deadline. Each diocese is to submit tough guidelines for dealing with child sexual abuse to the Vatican for review within a year. The Church has laid down the law.

There’s just one catch: They were in such a hurry to issue their decree that they forgot to insert (so to speak) any penalties for non-compliance and no mechanism for enforcement.

The letter, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is reported to clearly say that diocese must issue culture-appropriate guidelines on dealing with child sex abuse. (My request for a copy of the letter was unanswered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.) It takes a long time to write guidelines like maybe:

  1. Thou shalt not force altar boys to perform oral sex.
  2. Thou shalt not rape children on church outings.
  3. Thou shalt not cover up any violations of #1 and #2.

Wow! That didn’t take all that long. So what are they going to do for the rest of the year?

It’s been reported that the letter clearly states, the sexual abuse of minors is a crime. For those bishops who were in doubt, the issue’s been cleared up. And they are being urged to obey local laws by reporting cases to local law enforcement. Again, wow! Is it just me or does it seem odd that any organization has to make a big point out of telling its employees to obey the law? It seems to be a tacit admission that they’ve acted as if they were above the law.

Then, before we get too carried away, and think they’re now going to be law-abiding citizens, they remind the recipients that bishops have ultimate authority. They may decide not to report a crime and to keep it secret, and maybe just look the other way.

This directive from the Roman Catholic Church leads me to wonder: What’s new?

For years, bishops all over the world have been more concerned about protecting the Church and the priests than protecting the victims. They’ve transferred predatory priests, giving them access to new victims; denied any and all accusations against the perpetrators; refused to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, often refusing to turn over documents tracking the transfers of the accused; intimidated victims when they reported the abuse; discouraged them from going to the police; and ended up paying out millions of dollars when all else failed.

But, now they want us to have faith that they’re serious?

A toothless letter that poses as a mandate and a report that shifts the blame to social forces beyond their control is just a continuation of a climate of denial.

Photo from Flickr user emilio labrador through Creative Commons.



  1. That’s just plain stupid. Have you ever heard of Mary MacKillop. Here, read:

    • Carol King says:

      Thank you for posting this. I hadn’t heard of Mary but I’m not surprised. Was she a hippie in 1871?

  2. Liz Homer says:

    Excellent article. I wonder why there are any Catholics left. Just what would the church have to do for some people to stop contributing money to the care and feeding of priests and leave?

    • Carol King says:

      I agree. I’ve often wondered that myself. I broke with the church because of the attitudes toward and treatment of women when I was in high school. Since then, I’ve been mystified that anyone still supports them.

  3. Corey Crittenden says:

    Great article, Carol. And timely, given we just returned from Rome. As I looked at the entrance line encircling almost the entire Vatican, it made me slightly nauseated at the amount of money tourists alone contribute to the Catholic church.

  4. It’s actually nothing. They are just ignoring the problem.

    • Carol King says:

      It’s a tradition with them.

      • Terry C - NJ says:

        “premarital sexual behavior” — which, of course, is Vaticanspeak for “people doing it for ENJOYMENT and NOT procreation”.

      • Jan Hill says:

        The photo of the statue of 1970’s priest and boy breaks my heart–look at that adoration from the boy, look at that sanctimonious, salacious priest ready to strike.

  5. Marilyn Lewis says:

    Bless me father for i have sinned. my last confession was… uh…? Reminds me when I was kicked out of confession when I was 16 and told to not come back until I had changed my attitude.

  6. Terry C - NJ says:

    “an increase in premarital sexual behavior and divorce.”

    Neither of which have anything to do with the perverts in the church molesting children and the church covering that molestation up for decades.

  7. The Catholic Church either needs to evolve or die out.

  8. I have a friend who served as an altar boy in Trinidad/Tobago in 1930, and — at the age of 9 — was sexually abused by an Irish Catholic priest. Can’t blame that on 1960s counter culture.

    So perhaps the priest was unhinged by island culture — or perhaps he was just a sicko drawn to a position designed to shelter pedophiles.

    As an aging hippie chick who embraced sexual liberation, I can assure you free love never extended to the sexual abuse of children, and I am outraged that the Catholic Church would now add insult to injury.

  9. Hi Carol,

    Great article! I also left the church because of their misogynistic attitude toward women, and I too am stunned that with all this shameful behavoir, people still attend (like sheep)and continue to finance this toxic institution. These parishioners are also responsible: they are aiding and abetting sinful and unlawful actions. Nothing will improve unitl the all-powerful, all-male hierarchy is dismantled and replaced with socially accountable men and women!

  10. shea dean says:

    It’s my understaning that many men are attracted to the priesthood because priests are ‘bulletproof’… and this has been so for a long, long time. They become priests in order to be protected by the Church.

    Priests believe they are ordained by God and are above reproach. It’s tragic because I want to walk in the Light of Christ, but these priests are killing the church.

  11. Carol: Great article! I, too, left the Catholic Church after I realized that at least 80% of Church members don’t believe in the “rules” of the Church and keep going beccause they are indocrinated with the belief that they will burn in hell. When I think about the fear they instill in kids (I attended Catholic schools) through religious education, it makes me very sad. There is so much hypocrisy. I have friends who are still Catholic and they continue to go to Mass, just looking the other way. I just can’t imagine doing that.

  12. Inquisidor Maledicto is a disgusting hypocrite!

  13. Enough of more spiritual burocrats…we don’t need them (we never did)

  14. “Largest study to date”

    Yes, because 2 million is a significant amount for a multibillion dollar corporation…

    Really not surprised here.

  15. The Vatican is a putrid stinking pile of a trash. Hiding pedophiles while simultaneously discouraging the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, and sticking their nose into politics trying to prevent the use of birth control… Moral authority my ass.

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