In May of 2018, the National Catholic Reporter detailed that since 2003, 19 Catholic dioceses or religious orders have filed for bankruptcy. The growing debt is a result of large payments to victims of sexual abuse within the church. Rather than hoping a lump sum will suffice, it’s time the Catholic church stepped up and fully admitted their faults take steps to prevent abuse in the future.
A common theme of the church is relocating clergy members accused of abuse to a different location, where the abuse continues. This was the case for former Roman Catholic priest Arthur Perrault, who was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison for a decades-old sexual abuse case.
Perrault became an ordained member of the clergy in 1964, and has been accused of abuse from several victims over a timeline spanning nearly 30 years. When Perrault was first accused of abuse in the 1960s, he was sent by the church to a center in Connecticut, then relocated to another church in New Mexico.
John J. Geoghan, a priest reported on in The Boston Globe’s 2002 article on child abuse within churches in the Boston area, was also relocated after admitting to molesting young boys. The article would later serve as inspiration for Spotlight, the 2015 Oscar winner of Best Motion Picture of the Year. Geoghan’s abuse of children occurred over three decades and affected more than 130 kids.
Both of these circumstances beg the question, why was nothing done about the abuse, and why would these criminals be allowed to stay in any environment where they would have access to children?
Since abuse revelations within the church have come to light, such inquiries have been presented numerous times to the Catholic church, but without valid answers or explanations.
There can be confusion for victims of sexual abuse since, most of the time, offenders are recognizable to them. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) has reported that 93 percent of juveniles who have reported their sexual abuse cases knew the perpetrator. It was someone they were familiar with and trusted. In the case of Catholic priests, children are taught that they are people who are not only to be trusted, but revered as workers of God. One scene in Spotlight depicts this sentiment, as an abuse victim explains his feelings when a priest who later abused him first started to take an interest in asking for his help.
“When a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal. It’s like God asking for help,” actor Neal Huff said portraying real-life abuse survivor Phil Saviano in the film.
Priests are not God, nuns are not God, and no human being is God.
The church’s lack of willingness to both address and put a stop to child abuse is nothing short of disgraceful. No one is above the consequences of their actions, and accountability is in order for any person who is an abuser. To this day, cases continue to emerge that were previously ignored by the church.
Newsweek recently ran a story on 24 cases of Catholic church sexual abuse from Chicago that were neglected and hidden away. The reports are being investigated by the Department of Children and Family Services, who is concerned that more than 1000 cases of sexual abuse have gone without proper review by the Catholic church in Chicago.
Not only should abusers face criminal charges for what they’ve done, but any other person who has knowingly withheld information or handled reports improperly should face ramifications as well. Furthermore, if the Catholic church continues to avoid addressing issues of child abuse head-on, it should become the job of police authorities to step in and investigate.
Police in Buffalo were recently accused of reporting child abuse to local bishops rather than arresting priests committing the crimes, the Buffalo News reported in May. This is a horrific betrayal of trust, and cannot go without notice. Every person withholding information must speak so that victims can see their abusers be held accountable for their actions.
In addition to ensuring abusers and their allies face consequences, educating children can be a powerful tool in preventing further abuse not only in churches, but in any environment they may find themselves in. Erin’s Law is a proposal that has been passed in 37 states and is currently pending in 12 more. The law was created by Erin Merryn, who was sexually abused during her childhood. It calls for a pre-k through 12 grade program in which kids are taught age-appropriate techniques in being able to identify sexual abuse. Additionally, the law advises any child who has been victimized to speak out and tell a trusted adult about what’s happened to them.
Although the law is currently only enforced in public schools, there’s no reason it shouldn’t extend to private and Catholic schools as well. Young children who are victimized may be unaware of what sexual abuse is and unsure of how to handle it. Knowledge is power, and if kids are knowledgeable regarding abuse and how to identify and address it, it can make a big difference in the future for the safety of our children.
Child abuse within the Catholic church is a global problem, and everyone involved needs to work to create a system that protects victims and punishes criminals, not the other way around.