The movie Spotlight ends with the Boston Globe printing its explosive expose on January 6, 2002. What has been happening in the Catholic Church since then is also an important part of the story and a continuing one. In 2011, reflecting on the upcoming tenth anniversary of the Boston Globe’s expose, the current Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley (who replaced Cardinal Law) said that “the media helped make our Church safer for children by raising up the issue of clergy sexual abuse and forcing us to deal with it.”
At the Vatican
At the Vatican, between 2004 and 2011, 3,400 cases of alleged clergy abuse were received from the US. Of the priests accused, 848 were laicized (removed from the ordained priesthood) and 2,572 were permanently removed from ministry. At the same, researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice published a study that showed that 4392 priests had been accused of child sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002 which represented 4% of all priests in the United States in those years which is a similar occurrence in the general population. Still, one case is still one case too many and a tragedy in its own right and we need to do all we can to prevent any more incidents of child sexual abuse.
In more recent times, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was instituted at the Vatican in 2014 in order to give advice on the safeguarding of minors in the Church. It consists of about fifteen members from all around the world and among them are survivors of sexual abuse and psychologists. Last year, in June 2015, a special tribunal was set up for dealing specifically with cases of bishops negligent in the safeguarding and protection of minors against pedophiles.
In Australia, Integrity in Ministry was published in 2004 as a code of conduct for clergy and religious in Australia. As for many professions, the code of conduct sets clear standards of behavior and guidelines for what is considered appropriate and healthy and what is inappropriate. Like in the US, recent years have also seen safe environment training in Australian dioceses as well as mandatory checks on anyone who has contact with minors. On top of this, there are Professional Standards Offices around the country to respond objectively, compassionately and with justice any complaints of sexual abuse.
In the Perth Archdiocese, all who have contact with children are required to have a current Working with Children Check (this is monitored at the local level and from a central office) and our schools have clear policies for the protection and well-being of children. For those applying for training for the priesthood, there are compulsory psychological assessments as part of the application process as well as attention to areas of psychosexual formation in the seminary. A Safeguarding Office was established last year as well as a program of Safeguarding Officers in each parish to monitor compliance with Archdiocesan guidelines and protocols.
Outside of the US and Australia, it is estimated that between 8 and 20% of British adults have suffered some form of abuse as children while a 2002 Irish study showed that 27% of Irish adults had been sexually abused as children. The latter study showed that 60% had been abused within their families and most of the rest by neighbours and family friends while less than 2% had been abused by members of the clergy. Two years ago, 170 institutions from WA alone were reported to The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which shows how widespread this scourge was notwithstanding the abuse that occurred within families.
To quote from Spotlight, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse a child.” Child sexual abuse is something that happened in the wider society and, sadly, still continues to happen. It is hard to get through a month without reading in the newspaper of a report of child sexual abuse happening in our own time and local community. Spotlight also shows how the Boston Globe itself had known about the abuse for years and had not effectively reported it.
Prayers and Support
A sad reality in regards to victims of child sexual abuse is that healing doesn’t come for many, many years and even decades and, for some, it may never come in this life. For many, faith has been shattered in humanity, in the Church and even in God. However, the least we can do is to hold survivors of child sexual abuse in our thoughts and prayers and ask healing for them from God and to support them as best we can.