How widespread is child sex abuse in the Catholic Church? Two UN panel reports have issued scathing reports against the church and the Holy See. The problem has gone on for decades but is not likely to be solved any time soon, or at all because of the Vatican's refusal to deal with it honestly. The other problem is celibacy, an unnatural lifestyle that does not address the natural urge for sexual activity.
Wednesday June 11, 2014, 16:49 DST
Child sex abuse in churches is quite common. There have been numerous reports of priests sexually abusing children in the US, Canada and Britain.
According to available statistics, at least 4 percent of priests have been involved in sexual abuse of children. This figure is clearly under-reported since most priests have been able to scare their victims into silence. The priesthood itself has kept a tight lid of such scandals with the Vatican also issuing directives not to divulge information to secular authorities.
On May 23, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) issued a scathing report about the Vatican’s handling of child sex abuse by priests and urged the Catholic Church to do more to punish the perpetrators, help the victims and impose “meaningful sanctions” on priests that fail or refuse to seriously deal with credible allegations.
Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of children have been abused by priests. Such crimes have gone on even in recent years despite information coming to light about these scandals involving children.
In the past, the Vatican sought refuge behind the excuse that it only exercises control over the city-state and is not accountable for priests’ conduct elsewhere. The UN expert panel rejected this explanation and called on the Holy See to “take effective measures” to monitor individuals under its “effective control” and to “stop and sanction” conduct that would constitute “credible allegations of violations of the [UN] Convention [against Torture]”.
Interestingly, even before the UN report was released, the Vatican issued a statement exonerating itself of any “violation” of the UN Convention against Torture.
Advocates of abuse victims, however, have a different understanding of the situation rejecting the Vatican’s claim outright. They labelled the UN report “a historic document” saying it recognised the priests’ sexual abuse as a form of torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment.
“They're clearly wrong,” said Pam Spees of the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights, regarding the Vatican's assertion. “This is an important recognition of the gravity of these offences that have been minimised by the church, places responsibility where it belongs – with the hierarchy in the church, not the victims – and could help open new avenues for redress.”
Despite such a scathing report from a UN expert panel, St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson testified last month that he wasn’t sure whether it was illegal for priests to have sex with children while he served as chancellor of the St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese. He faces a massive clergy abuse lawsuit in the Archdiocese of St Louis where he has served as archbishop since 2009.
One document made public in that case shows more than 100 priests and church employees have been accused of sexual abuse, and the Missouri Supreme Court has ordered the archdiocese to turn over their names under seal.
The Minnesota lawsuit was filed by a man who claimed a priest abused him during the 1970s, and Carlson told the plaintiff’s attorneys that his understanding of those accusations had changed over the years.
“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson said. “I understand today it’s a crime.”
According to available global data, child sexual abuse is estimated at 19.7 percent for females and 7.9 percent for males, according to a 2009 study published in Clinical Psychology Review that examined 65 studies from 22 countries.
Both Europe and the US rank high in terms of child sex abuse.
Under the law, child sexual abuse is an umbrella term that describes criminal and civil offenses in which an adult engages in sexual activity with a minor or exploits a minor for the purpose of sexual gratification.
The American Psychiatric Association states that “children cannot consent to sexual activity with adults,” and condemns any such action by an adult: “An adult who engages in sexual activity with a child is performing a criminal and immoral act which never can be considered normal or socially acceptable behavior.”
The CAT report comes on the heels of another UN panel report by the Committee on the Rights of the Child that was much more scathing in its criticism of the Vatican. Issued last February, the report evoked an angry response from the Vatican accusing the panel of ideologically motivated interference in church teachings because it also touched on homosexuality and abortion.
The CAT report was much more nuanced and even noted progress made by the church on the sex abuse scandal. It welcomed the establishment by Pope Francis of a commission for the protection of minors, and his statement in April that the church needed to be “even stronger” in its tackling of the problem.
The issue goes to the heart of the notion of celibacy and its impact on sexual urges among priests and nuns. There are many horror stories of priests and nuns having affairs and even killing new-born babies from such liaisons and burying them on church grounds.
There appear to be many skeletons in the Vatican’s cupboards, after all.