When Pastors and Priests Prey

Last week on January 16th in Geneva, Switzerland, a historic milestone took place as the Holy See went before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The committee was seeking detailed information on the sexual violence against children by Catholic clergy around the world, its cover up within the church and the denial of justice and compensation for victims.

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

A day earlier I went to a special screening of Silence in the House of God, a HBO documentary which details the first known protests against clergy sexual abuse in the USA. The documentary also exposures other cases of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy around the world. After the documentary, the Center for Constitutional Rights hosted a panel discussion with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. It was emotional to hear their stories and inspiring to witness their unbroken spirits and determination to secure justice.

The realities of clergy sexual abuse of women and minors both boys and girls is now more widely known. However, it is still a taboo subject for many and some victims feel as though they have nowhere to turn with little support from their communities due to the status of clergy persons.

In October 2013, the World Christian Student Federation (WSCF) re-launched a book titled When Pastors and Priests Prey – Identifying, Preventing and Overcoming Clergy Sexual Abuse of Women, a book, which aims to raise awareness about identifying, preventing and overcoming clergy sexual abuse of women.

We hope that this effort will begin a cultural transformation within the worldwide church.” ~ Christine Housel, General Secretary of the WSCF

The book, which was supported by the World Council of Churches’ Women in Church and Society project, offers insights from researchers, advocates and survivors. Also included is a speech by former President Jimmy Carter to the Parliament of the World Religions in which he states:

The truth is the male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”

As in any case of sexual abuse it is essential that justice prevails and that the perpetrators are brought before the law and punished for their horrific crimes. However, in situations involving the clergy such as catholic priests, the Holy See have their own law known as Canon – religious – Law, when asked to provide information on known sexual abuse cases (letter of complaints from victims and legal documents of canon law trials of sexual abuse perpetrators) the Holy See declined stating that it is

not the practice of the Holy See to disclose information on the religious discipline.”

This presents a serious problem and complete lack of transparency.

Instead of the sexual abuse perpetrators and paedophiles receiving prison sentences and rehabilitation, these men are simply either stripped of their priesthood or in the case of women (nuns) denied Catholic membership (but are still able to live freely never being brought to justice) or sent to a Catholic rehabilitation centre and then placed into a different parish to continue their religious life as clergy persons and therefore are free to commit the abuse all over again.

In May 2013, the Catholic Archbishop of Durban said in a BBC interview that he had dealt with cases of child sex abuse, which were handled by the church internally, and not referred to the police. There are thousands of cases just like this; clergy, brothers, preachers, pastors and nuns, many churches and religious institutions intertwined in ungodly acts such as sexual and physical abuse, is this really justice?

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

An NGO report submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child earlier this year by the Centre for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), lists harrowing examples of the kind of harm done to children by Catholic priests which was subsequently covered up by the Church: a priest who regularly forced sex upon two boys simultaneously; the case of a 9 year old girl who was molested in the confessional booth; that of another 15 year old girl who was taken for an abortion by the same priest who had raped and impregnated her; and a priest who offered money to boys in exchange for acts of sadomasochism – the list is extensive.

This is a global problem with cases from all regions of the world being reported. All perpetrators of any form of abuse must be held accountable by the same laws that govern ‘lay persons’ and those that know and try to cover up the abuse (such as Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger) are as guilty as those who commit the crimes – in my opinion. Therefore, let’s break the silence, demand justice for all and prevent this abuse from continuing. Holy See it is time to confess your sins and be held accountable.

For more information

Child Sexual Abuse and the Holy See, a preliminary report from Child Rights International Network

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Cover image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons