SNAP hopes against hope that clergy sex abuse will be discussed at tomorrow's meeting between President Biden and Pope Francis

President Joseph Biden, the second Catholic president in U.S. history, is slated to visit with Pope Francis in Rome on October 29th.  While some may believe that the meeting is more personal than political, we believe that President Biden can and should convey a strong message to Pope Francis that he needs to do more to address the scourge of clergy sexual abuse within our country.

In the United States, we are currently seeing an average of two arrests per month of trusted figures in Catholic facilities. This disturbing news shows us that the persistent claims from Church officials that the abuse scandal is a thing of the past are simply not true. It is very much a thing of the present.

A few weeks ago SNAP and other organizations called for the United States to form a Presidential Commission to investigate child sex abuse -- not just abuse in Catholic institutions -- modeled after successful commissions in other countries such as Australia. Our Executive Director, Zach Hiner said at the time, "This report from France is the latest to bring attention to the systemic nature of clergy abuse cover-ups perpetrated worldwide, and we know that responses from responsible institutions have been woefully inadequate. It is time for the United States to follow in the footsteps of countries like Australia, Ireland, and the UK and commission a federal level investigation and Presidential commission in order to determine what went wrong in the past and how we can prevent similar horrors in the future."

More importantly, SNAP statistics also reveal that there have been 350 clergy and laypersons charged with abuse since 2004. BishopAccountability, the largest public library of information on the Catholic sex abuse scandal, has documented 3,000 more perpetrators since 2004. This number, added to the initial 4,300 plus names acknowledged by Church officials in the John Jay Report, brings the staggering total to over 7,000 abusers, and this figure is growing monthly. If the rate of clergy abuse in this country is similar to that in France, there are probably as many as 472,500 victims of Catholic clerics in the United States, and 700,000 survivors of abuse in Catholic institutions, if you include those abused by lay brothers, nuns, employees, and volunteers.

There is no price to truly compensate for a soul's destruction, but ChildUSA estimates that the lifetime cost to society of a single case of child sexual abuse is nearly $900,000. That means U.S. society is bearing the burden of decisions made by the Catholic bishops in this country to protect clergy perpetrators to the tune of more than $400 billion. We believe that this burden should be assumed by the people who created the damage.

Moreover, in a recent case, the European Court of Human Rights dismissed a lawsuit from survivors of abuse by Catholic clergy, ruling that the Vatican cannot be sued because it is a country. We agree with Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability who said in response, "The notions endorsed by the ruling, that the Pope isn't the boss of his bishops and that the Holy See didn't authorize the bishops' cover-up of abuse, are demonstrably untrue."

In our view, the U.S Catholic bishops have failed their flock, their institution, and their commitment to helping the victims of abuse by their brother clergy and placed an enormous financial burden on this country. Church officials have also failed to recognize the survivors who suffered at the hands of nuns, brothers, and Catholic staffers and volunteers. From the first widely covered case of clergy sex abuse in Louisiana in 1985 to the Boston Globe’s deep dive into the sex abuse scandal in 2002, and most recently the scathing six diocese grand jury report from Pennsylvania in 2018, we see the Conference of Catholic Bishops refusal to do what is necessary to protect the vulnerable and to prevent our society from having to bear the cost of their unconscionable decisions.

Victims of sexual abuse need the help of President Biden and we believe he should use this opportunity to address their plight. Child sexual assault is not ministerial misconduct or a "boundary violation," it is a criminal act that must be reported to law enforcement immediately. Church officials need to step out of the way of secular investigations for the sake of victims, who will suffer a lifetime of pain.

We understand that other more comfortable issues may be discussed during the President and Pope’s short time together. However, we hope that the huge problem of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in the U.S. will not be completely ignored.

CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager, (267-261-0578, [email protected]) Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (517-974-9009, [email protected]) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President, (814-341-8386, [email protected])

(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)


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  • Michael McDonnell
    published this page in Media Statements 2021-10-28 13:22:00 -0500

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