US not alone in grappling with Catholic sex abuse, cover-up

Pope Francis arrives to hold his weekly general, at the Pope Paul VI hall, Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Recent revelations of sexual misconduct and cover-up within the highest ranks of the U.S. Catholic Church have revived the sense of betrayal that devastated the American church’s credibility after the first wave of scandal hit in 2002.

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But the United States is by no means alone: Cases of Catholic priests raping and molesting children, and of bishops covering up for them, have erupted on nearly every continent in recent years, with Pope Francis’ native Latin America the latest to explode.

Francis is expected to address the issue head-on this weekend when he visits Ireland, the first country to come to grips with the problem in the 1990s.

A glance of where the global Catholic scandal has played out most visibly in recent years:

United States

After the abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002, U.S. bishops adopted the toughest anti-abuse norms in the Catholic Church, a “one strike and you’re out” policy that removes any priest from ministry if he commits a single act of abuse that is admitted to or established.

The norms require dioceses to report allegations to police and have a lay-led review board to receive and assess claims.

The U.S. scandal was revived in June with revelations that one of the cardinals who drafted the 2002 policy, the retired archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick, himself had been accused of molesting at least two minors as well as adult seminarians. He has said he is innocent, but recently resigned as a cardinal.

The scandal has exploded anew with the Pennsylvania grand jury report finding some 300 priests sexually abused at least 1,000 children in six dioceses since the 1940s.


Francis discovered first-hand just how pervasive clerical sex abuse is — and how effectively it has been covered up by the Catholic hierarchy — when he created the greatest scandal of his five-year papacy earlier this year.

During a January visit to the once staunchly Catholic Chile, Francis set off a firestorm of criticism when he branded as “calumny” accusations of cover-up against a Chilean bishop he had strongly defended.

After realizing his error, Francis did an about-face: He ordered a Vatican investigation, apologized in person to the victims he had discredited, and strong-armed the entire Chilean hierarchy to tender their resignations.

It wasn’t enough. Chilean criminal prosecutors are now on the case, and have staged a series of raids on the church’s secret archives to seize documents and plan to depose the current archbishop of Santiago.


Australia launched a four-year national investigation into all forms of institutional abuse — Catholic and otherwise — that found 4,444 people were abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions between 1980 and 2015.

The Royal Commission investigation, Australia’s highest form of inquiry, deduced that seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of sexually abusing children.

One of them is Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican finance minister and Francis adviser who last year took a leave of absence to stand trial in Melbourne on historic sex abuse charges. Pell has said he is innocent.

More recently, Francis accepted the resignation of Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson after he became the most senior Catholic cleric convicted in criminal court of covering up abuse. He was sentenced to serve a one-year sentence at home. Wilson has denied wrongdoing and plans to appeal.


One of France’s most prominent cardinals, Philippe Barbarin, is due to stand trial in January on charges he covered up for a known pedophile in Lyon, where Barbarin has been archbishop since 2002.

Barbarin and five other French defendants are accused of knowing that the Rev. Bernard Preynat sexually abused young scouts but didn’t report him to police. Preynat, now in his 70s, has confessed in letters to victims’ parents and meetings with his superiors, including Barbarin.

Another defendant is the Vatican official in charge of abuse cases, named because Barbarin consulted him about Preynat and was told to keep the priest away from children but to do everything to avoid scandal.

Just this week, a French priest, the Rev. Pierre Vignon, launched a petition urging Barbarin to resign as archbishop and cardinal. By Wednesday it had gathered more than 5,000 signatures.

Barbarin, 67, has admitted to making some “mistakes” in the management and nominations of priests, but has denied any attempt to cover up the Preynat case.

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Judge-led investigations have produced four mammoth reports since 2005 into the church’s wretched record in dealing with predator priests, helping to dismantle the Catholic Church’s once- dominant influence in Irish society and politics.

The reports have detailed how tens of thousands of children suffered wide-ranging abuses in church-run workhouse-style institutions, how Irish bishops shuttled known pedophiles throughout Ireland and to unwitting parishes in the U.S. and Australia, and how Dublin bishops didn’t tell police of any crimes until forced by the weight of lawsuits in the mid-1990s.

One of the final investigations, into the diocese of Cloyne, found that officials there were still shielding suspected pedophiles from the law until 2008 — more than 12 years after the Irish church unveiled a policy requiring the mandatory reporting of all suspected crimes to police.

That policy, however, was rejected by the Vatican in 1997 as undermining canon law — a position that, combined with the Vatican’s refusal to cooperate in the Irish fact-finding probes, prompted the Cloyne inquiry to find the Vatican itself culpable in promoting the culture of cover-up.

In response, Ireland’s then-Prime Minister Enda Kenny issued a blistering attack on the Vatican, accusing it of downplaying the rape of children to protect its own power and reputation.

Kenny’s 2011 parliament speech, in which he denounced “the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism….the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day,” led to a diplomatic standoff.

Vatican City

While only a few hundred people live in the world’s tiniest sovereign state, Vatican City’s criminal jurisdiction covers the Holy See’s global diplomatic corps, and two priestly diplomats have faced trial in recent years.

In June, the Vatican tribunal convicted Monsignor Carlo Capella of possession and distribution of child pornography and sentenced him to five years in prison. Capella admitted to viewing the images during a period of “fragility” and interior crisis sparked by his job transfer to the Vatican embassy in Washington.

In 2013, the Vatican charged its then-ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Monsignor Jozef Wesolowski, with sexually abusing young boys. Wesolowski was defrocked by the Vatican’s church court, but he died before the Vatican’s criminal trial got underway.

About the author

Nicole Winfield


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  • “Francis is expected to address the issue head-on”

    Like he has done so many times already? Woe is us, woe is us!!

  • We lived in Ireland for one year (not long enough) 1995 – 1996. We had an amazing time in this beautiful country. But the scandals within the Catholic Church were being shouted from the rooftops, literally, and it was horrendous to see what was being exposed.

  • But since you stopped trusting “the hiearchs” decades ago, what’s the point of your comment?

  • This article does no justice to the worldwide epidemic of clerical abuse. In Latin America, where the Church has always been protected by the remnants of the Patronato Real (royal power and ecclesiastical privilege), the people learned to accept physical and sexual abuse as part of the deal, largely because the “padre” knew how to bring resources into their pueblos. He was the one who could magically bring in food and supplies, as well as schools and nuns to teach in them. He was the one who could make the landlords give them holidays, or shares in their crops, or limited benefits. He was the local wizard and no one questioned his privileges.

    In many quarters, the priest had one or more concubines, but as long as he didn’t abuse her/them more than the local men abused their wives, few complained. In some places, the children of priests were called “hidalgos” (hijo de algo = son of something), which was originally a title of minor nobility in Spain, but can also be used pejoratively (“sob”). Conversely, if the priest abused his woman, the men of the community would first talk to him, then slap him around if necessary, not because he had hit a woman, but because he had broken the implicit deal. (I once tried to stop a man from slapping his wife around in Lima, Peru, only to have the woman tell me “Dejeme. Es mi esposo. Me tiene que pegar (Let it be. He’s my husband. He’s got to hit me.) The rules are different there….
    In many places, such as Brazil and Bolivia, there is a tradition of the “cunumi”: a child the parents can’t afford, whom they entrust to their master as an indentured servant in return for better treatment. As one would expect, these children were often asked to perform more than servile work. That some priests took their own cunumis, male and female, is well documented.
    This article barely scratches the surface of clerical abuse.

  • “This article does no justice to the worldwide epidemic of clerical abuse.”

    It seemed to be a worldwide summary. Were you expecting photographs?

    “In Latin America …. nuns to teach in them.”

    A citation to go with this would be super.

    “In many quarters ….. the implicit deal.”

    No citation(s)?

    “In many places, such as … well documented.”

    No documentation?

    “This article barely scratches the surface of clerical abuse.”

    It was an AP newswire article, not a treatise.

  • “Now the Spirit speak expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:1-5 )

    This Bible is universally applicable to all countries.

  • If the Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops,and Bishops who have ” apologized ” for the ” inconvenience ” they have inflicted on the children of the world – let them volunteer to do Penance.

    10 Our Fathers and a bunch of Hail Marys isn’t what I have in mind !


    This act of contrition would, I’m sure, be looked upon by Jesus as a divine act of selflessness !

    Francesco should set an example by having himself castrated first – to be followed by the rest of the hierarchy, et al !

    This simple pious act will manifestly demonstrate to the world that their apologies are indeed heart-felt !

    Should the Pope and his minions reject this act of atonement – this mea culpa, let’s then change the method –



  • If you are looking for evidence of the problem try Australia: The Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse uncovered enough to convince any reasonable person that there is a problem. It’s nothing to sneer about, Bob. Even the Pope realises that.

  • What’s the point of your comment, Bob? Sorry, but your dismissal of others testimony due to “no documentation” seems disingenuous. Not all sins are documented on paper but they are there.

  • Lack of documentation means we’re reading an opinion, not a fact, in this instance from a long-time opponent of the Catholic Church.

  • The long-time opponent of the Catholic Church are those men in positions of authority who have let their sins blind them to the reality that they are not God nor are they gods. Our Lord will clean His house when and how He sees fit. With or without the documentation you seem to require.

  • Thank you for your opinion.

    Since we are the tools of the Lord, some facts and a plan of action seem reasonably in order.

  • Thank you for demonstrating that you are no man of faith.

    You have no verifiable documentation to prove your claim that we are tools of the Lord–unidentifiable by your criteria as there is no verification process possible–so your plan of action seems to be tooting your own horn and little else.

  • I have a lot of faith.

    That we are the tools of the Lord is Catholic theology, it is in both Scripture and the Catechism.

    “931 Already dedicated to him through Baptism, the person who surrenders himself to the God he loves above all else thereby consecrates himself more intimately to God’s service and to the good of the Church. By this state of life consecrated to God, the Church manifests Christ and shows us how the Holy Spirit acts so wonderfully in her. And so the first mission of those who profess the evangelical counsels is to live out their consecration. Moreover, ‘since members of institutes of consecrated life dedicate themselves through their consecration to the service of the Church they are obliged in a special manner to engage in missionary work, in accord with the character of the institute.'”

    And so on.

  • Bob, you’re putting faith in those who wrote things down. What they wrote down was true before it was written, not opinion. What is true and factual is true and factual even if no one ever documents it.

    “And so on”… is your excuse for giving yourself a pass for weak argumentation.

    A fact doesn’t become a fact just because it’s written down.

  • Courts also put faith in those who wrote things down.

    The Scriptures are full of things by those who wrote things down.

    I am not sure what this little p-ssing contest is you’re attempting to foment, but you’re failing.

  • “Courts also put faith in those who wrote things down.”

    And again, I say you are of little faith, but high on yourself and your “opinion.”

    The Scriptures warn of the blind leading the blind and false teachers, Bob. They warn of times wherein the Church will be betrayed by faithless men. Check out CCC 675 when it comes to what is documented and proffered.

    The only one pi$$ing is you, Bob. And your assurance of failure–undocumented and unsubstantiated–is absolutely your opinion which has already been demonstrated, by your poor discourse, to be of little to no value.

  • Ann – has a useful feature called “blocking”.

    I spent some time looking over your 646 posts from Connecticut since you joined Pearl Harbor Day in 2014.

    What I see is what I am reading in this exchange: argumentative, zany, and pointless, e.g.:

    Since my time is valuable, and your time seem inexhaustible, and I wish to discuss reality and facts, and you wish to … well, not discuss reality and facts, I have blocked you.

    I will never read another post of yours, therefore never respond to another post of yours, which will allow to focus on somewhat more useful exchanges, and you to …. whatever it is your doing.

    Better luck with your next victim, er, correspondent.


  • Possible….

    Let’s up the ” penance ” to a cod-sack filled w/fire ants, poison ivy and a box-jellyfish for good measure – cinched w/wet cat-gut !

  • Bob, human beings have a useful thing called “blocking” too. Long before Disqus came along. That is what you’ve been engaging.

    I’m flattered that you took your valuable time to reread my commentary.

    Better luck with your, er, distraction from the reality that a fact is not created via documentation.

    Your efforts go far in demonstrating the truth, however. You’re in error and can find no other means to attempt to dig yourself out of the hole you created than attempting personal smears.

    Typical of blowhards who seek to shut down discourse by making insupportable charges against thinking Catholics.

    Have you checked out CCC 675 yet?

  • You’re wasting your time.

    ” Arnzen ” is the current nom-de-plume of a paid apologist-hack for the RCC or one of its organs.

    According to several other commenters on RNS, he has used a number of aliases in the past. Once he gets pounded so hard for so long, like a chameleon,he changes – not his skin color – but his name.

  • Fortunately, it’s not universally accepted.

    There are still those who haven’t been corrupted by the con-men who use it to infect a psychotic state-of-mind.

  • I appreciate the heads-up, Patrick. Thing is I’m Roman Catholic. Believing. Practicing. And glad that the truth has outed on so many levels.

    Exposing the “paid” hacks– collared or merely useful — pleases me to no end. It’s about time.