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Has The Catholic Church Fixed Its Sexual Abuse Problem?

In the early 2000s, an in-depth news investigation exposed years of sexual abuse by clergy members of the Catholic Church that went back decades. The Church’s image suffered greatly as it struggled to resolve the scandal. Since then, hundreds of brave survivors have stepped forward to accuse their abusers and get the justice they deserve. 

History of Catholic Church Sexual Abuse

Claims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church go back decades. The first legal settlement for clergy abuse in the United States was in 1986 when 13 victims filed claims in Lafayette, Louisiana. But abuse claims in the Church go back much further, with most recent accusations dating back to the 1960s. 

Many newspapers reported on sexual abuse during the late 20th century, but the big story broke in 2002 when the Boston Globe exposed rampant abuse within the Catholic Church. Before this report, the Church would cover up sexual abuse scandals and attempt to sweep victims and their accusations under the rug. 

Since 2002, local dioceses of the Catholic Church have released the names of 5,100 clergy members that are possible sexual abusers. Today, 1,700 of those men are living out their lives like normal people, unsupervised and holding jobs as coaches, teachers, and counselors. 

The Catholic Church’s Response to Sexual Abuse

In 2019, Pope Francis released an apostolic letter that encouraged church staff to report allegations or suspicions of sexual abuse to local authorities. However, this letter only instructed reporting when local law required it. 

In July 2020, the Catholic Church published a manual that was to guide people through dealing with cases of sexual abuse within their church. The document is lengthy, and one of the most comprehensive actions the Catholic Church has taken since the 2002 sexual abuse investigation. However, nothing in the handbook is legally required by clerical law. Rather, it is a tool meant to help people “apply the canonical norms governing cases of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics.”

The Catholic Church has taken other steps as well, among them: 

  • Adopting a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse in 2002. 
  • Reconciliation events for victims, like Healing Masses and retreats. 
  • Some dioceses across the US have begun training staff on recognizing the signs of sexual abuse. 
  • Over $4 billion in lawsuit settlements have been paid to survivors by the Catholic Church. 

The Catholic Church Today

Even though the Catholic Church has taken several steps towards resolving claims of extensive sexual abuse, they have a long way to go. Since 2002, abuse cases within the Church continue to be discovered across the world, making it look like the Catholic Church is still trying to silence victims. Most recently, the Vatican released a report in November 2020 that detailed years of ongoing sexual abuse by the archbishop of Washington DC, Theodore McCarrick — a once outspoken “opponent” of sexual abuse in the Church. 

In 2019, 69% of American Catholics said that they thought abuse in the Catholic Church was an ongoing problem. Today, many criticize the Church for having weak policies, gaps in procedures, and ongoing habits that allow sexual abuse to continue. 

Report Your Clergy Abuse

If you or someone you know has suffered abuse by a member of the Catholic Church, the best thing to do is report it. Though it may be difficult, reporting your abuse can provide a great sense of relief and give you the opportunity to get the justice you deserve. 

If you are interested in filing a report of sexual abuse by a clergy member, call our office at 602-955-0055 and we’ll give you a free case review.

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