Investigation into child abuse in the Swiss Catholic Church published; SNAP finds the numbers seriously short
For immediate release: September 13, 2023
A yearlong investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Switzerland was released on Tuesday. While we are encouraged by the fact that the report highlighted the systematic cover-up of such crimes within the Church, we would have to agree with the accompanying acknowledgement that the findings represent “only the tip of the iceberg.”
The study, commissioned by the Swiss Bishops’ Conference and undertaken by the University of Zurich’s Historical Seminar, released a report of their findings yesterday. The investigation documented 1,002 cases of abuse since the mid-20th century, cases involving 510 accused and 921 victims. However, comparing the findings to those from other places around the world, those numbers are seriously undercounted, as we were happy to see the report acknowledged.
Switzerland has 3.3 million Catholics. Northern California has only 2.8 Million. Yet 1100 perpetrators have been found in NorCal, more than twice the number found in the Swiss study. 2,000 victims filed lawsuits and countless more that have come forward quietly, again more than double the Swiss number. It is also likely that the number of victims in NorCal does not reveal the full extent of the damage done by the criminal behavior of priests. Not all victims survive, and not all survivors come forward. If each California abuser had only 30 victims -- and some will have many more -- we likely have as many as 33,000 boys and girls in NorCal who suffered life-long damage because of the systemic cover-up of crimes by the Catholic Church.
Similarly, the French investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church estimated that 330,000 children in France were sexually abused over the past 70 years. The French have 27 million Catholics, more than eight times as many as Switzerland. If you divide 330,000 by eight, we might expect to see over 41,000 victims in Switzerland, not a mere 921.
The Swiss research team did caution that their figures did not include information from numerous unevaluated archives. Were that additional information to be included, we would expect the number of victims in the country to grow from 921 to somewhere between 33,000-42,000.
We were happy to see that the study highlighted the systematic cover-up of sexual abuse within the Church. The report said plainly, “Church criminal law was scarcely enforced for much of the study period. Instead, many cases were deliberately concealed or minimized.” The investigation further stated that Church leaders often transferred accused clerics, sometimes internationally, to evade secular prosecution. We recognize this all too familiar pattern of behavior.
The Swiss Bishops’ Conference has pledged to take action. Hopefully, they will actually do just that. However, based on what we know about clergy abuse in the United States, we will not be holding our breath. Instead, we will put our faith in the incredible strength and courage of survivors, as well as the secular press and law enforcement.
If you have been abused in the Catholic Church in Switzerland or elsewhere, do not suffer alone and in silence. Stand up and speak out! You are not alone, and there are people who will believe you and support you.
CONTACT: Marc Artzrouni, SNAP Europe ([email protected], +33 - 6 95 73 65 92), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Director ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board of Directors President ([email protected], 814-341-8386)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)