Revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church have surfaced for decades. But in the never-ending stream of investigations and allegations, a few stand out.
This will likely be true of the report released on October 5, 2021, which estimated that more than 200,000 children have been abused by the clergy in France since 1950.
The authors of the French study spent three years reviewing the testimony of nearly 6,500 people. They then came up with their overall projection, based on extensive demographic data, and made dozens of recommendations: ranging from case-by-case compensation to more comprehensive reforms, such as French bishops appointing married men and allowing women to assert themselves in church decisions. Consider giving a voice. -Construction.
The specific findings of the French report may be new, but the underlying issues are not. Here are some articles from The Conversation, which have examined the Catholic sexual abuse crisis over the years, both its roots and possible paths to reform.
1. Years of Scam
High-profile reports have consistently placed the crisis in the spotlight for the past 20 years, most notably the Boston Globe’s famous “Spotlight” investigation in 2002 and the film that inspired it in 2015.
But according to Brian Clytes, an expert on the sexual abuse of clergy, the documenting – and cover-up – of patterns of abuse goes back at least to the 1950s. That’s when American bishops began sending pastors to church-run treatment centers, instead of reporting abuse to independent authorities. “Hush Money” payments followed.
By the 1990s, as the lawsuits escalated, “national outrage forced dioceses across the country to create public standards for how they were handling allegations of abuse,” Clytes writes, “and American bishops Launched new marketing campaigns to gain trust.”
Read more: Catholic Church priest has a grim history of ignoring pedophilia – and will be silent
2. Speaking – in and out
A major obstacle to bringing abusers to justice, many experts argue, is the church hierarchy and canon law, which regulate the church and its members.
But in 2019, Pope Francis revised the “law of pontifical secrecy,” which required that sensitive information about the church be kept confidential. For years, critics alleged that the policy allowed authorities to withhold information about sexual abuse cases from victims or even legal authorities. Francis’ declaration removed the rule for three situations: sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons, failure to report or attempts to cover up such abuse, and possession of child pornography by a cleric.
However, despite this change, transparency may prove elusive, says law professor Christine P. Bartholomew argues. She outlines other practices that can be used to work around information hiding and mandatory reporting requirements.
Read more: Pope ends privacy rule for Catholic sex abuse cases, but many barriers to justice remain for victims
3. Brahmacharya controversy
Other analysts trying to understand the roots of the sexual abuse crisis focus on the rules of the priesthood itself – specifically that priests are male and celibate.
But it hasn’t always been so clear. Kim Hans-Etzen, an expert in early Christianity, described how ideas about marriage have changed since the first century. St. Paul “reluctantly” seemed to support marriage, she writes, “an acceptable option for those who cannot control themselves.”
Attitudes towards sex and marriage have caused controversy for centuries, contributing to controversy between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and later the Protestant Reformation. This is still the case today, as some Catholics advocate that married men be allowed to become priests.
Read more: How views on priestly celibacy changed in Christian history
4. Change is Possible
Replacing a 2,000-year-old institution is hard, but not out of reach.
As a scholar of religious change, Melissa Wilde points to the moments when the Catholic Church changed course. Chief among them was Vatican II, the church council in the 1960s, which introduced significant reforms to worship, such as conducting Mass in the parishioners’ own language instead of Latin.
With the Church in crisis, “the Church needs more than reflection,” she argues. “It needs another council.”
Read more: Catholic Church opposes change – but Vatican II shows it is possible
Editor’s Note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation Archives.