After Decades of Cover-up and Minimization, the Vatican is Now “Overwhelmed” by Abuse Cases
The Vatican department tasked with investigating cases of clergy abuse is reportedly “overwhelmed” by the number of allegations they are receiving. We are glad that survivors around the world have been empowered to come forward and make reports of their abuse, and we hope that this trend continues in 2020.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has been charged with investigating cases of clergy abuse since 2001, when Pope John Paul II gave this power to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The cardinal kept cases of abuse confidential and secret, which not only undermined public knowledge about these cases, but also meant that survivors faced a challenging and hostile environment when coming forward with their reports. The system did not change when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.
Fortunately, secular law enforcement around the world have been flexing their muscle in the past couple of years in cases against high-profile prelates in countries including Australia, France, and the United States. This has led to more survivors coming forward, and has forced transparency upon an institution that has long tried to cover-up cases of sexual violence committed by bishops, clergy, brothers, nuns, seminarians and other church staff.
The report into the new deluge of cases the CDF is handling points out that many of these cases come from countries where they “never heard from [before],” according to Monsignor John Kennedy, the man in charge of these investigations. Good. That means that the pushes that survivors and advocates have made towards transparency are resonating around the world.
The simple fact is that the Vatican lost its credibility long ago when it comes to investigating clergy abuse. Report after report has revealed that the Catholic Church chose to protect its own secrets over protecting the children in their pews. In the United States, there are a reported 7,000 abusers according to lists published by dioceses and religious orders, and we know that the majority of these lists are incomplete, not to mention the fact that not every diocese or order has made such a list public. If the US represents 3% of all priests in the world, and its incomplete accounting is already at 7,000, imagine the worldwide total if the Vatican develops the means and the courage to really look under the rug.
We are confident that the number of reports that the CDF is handling will only increase as survivors continue to be empowered to come forward and as Catholic officials are forced to reveal their long-held secrets by law enforcement.
Church offices are overwhelmed because Catholic officials have long tried to keep this problem as a dirty little secret. Unfortunately, the secret is not little at all, and thanks to the dedicated work of survivors who have been speaking out for decades, and the law enforcement officials who have listened to their stories, we are in a new era of reckoning in cases of clergy abuse. This is a good thing, as it means more protections for children, more justice for survivors, and the potential to move towards a future where cases of clergy abuse are prevented instead of covered-up.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)