We’ll start with a basic timeline, mostly taken from the NPR website:
In 1981, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's watchdog agency for faith and morals, including internal investigations of crime within the church. He held this position until his appointment to the papacy in 2005.
During his stay as prefect, the church dealt with several major abuse cases, including the Reverend Lawrence C. Murphy, who later admitted to the molestation of over 200 boys at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin, priest Gilbert Gauthe, who pled guilty 11 counts of molestation in Louisiana, and priest James Porter in Massachusetts, who pled guilty to the sexual abuse of more than 25 children.
In 1992, it was discussed and recognized at a conference of United States Bishops that some Bishops had been involved in the cover-up of sexual abuse within the church. In 1996, letters sent to Cardinal Ratzinger by Milwaukee’s archbishop requesting the investigation and trial of Murphy and another priest accused of abuse are unanswered.
1997, Ratzinger closes the case of Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of The Legion of Christ accused of sexually abusing boys under his authority and care in Mexico.
In 1999 that priest John Geogehan is formally charged with child rape. It is brought to light during the trial that the priest had been repeatedly accused of molestation, but had been moved between parishes to avoid scandal. In 2002, Geogehan is sentenced to 10 years in prison, Documents surfaced during this time which proved the cover-up of these abuses by Cardinal Bernard Law, who later fled to Rome and resigned as archbishop of Boston.
In 2004, a report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice finds that between 1950 and 2002, about 10,000 people have filed abuse accusations against about 4,000 catholic clergy members. The US conference of Catholic Bishops creates a report which details these allegations. That same year, several parishes in the US declare bankruptcy caused by the millions of dollars spent on reparations to survivors of the abuse.
After elected Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican investigation of Rev Maciel is reopened and he is found guilty of several incidents of sexual assault. The Pope orders the Reverend to resign and take up a life of “prayer and penance”. This occurs among more declaration of bankruptcy by various American parishes, which also prompts speculation that the bankruptcy declarations are being made in an effort to further conceal the details of abuse claims that might otherwise be revealed in court.
Earlier this year, sexual assault cases against catholic priests in Germany, Ireland and Brazil join the mass of cases coming from the United States. Included in the evidence emerging for the cases includes the Pope’s communication with Bishops in California and Tuscon who wrote asking for the trial and defrocking of priests in their diocese found guilty (within a court or church tribunal) of sexual assault. The lack of action, as well as messages which warn about the price of scandal and otherwise delay the defrocking, are just a part of this current scandal. The Pope was also a part of a possible cover-up of a perpetrating priest as archbishop of Munich. Although his responsibility and role are unclear, it seems that Ratzinger, at first reports of abuse, sent the priest for therapy and rehabilitation. [More details of all these cases can be found on the same NPR page as the timeline,
To supplement these news based resources, we can also look at some opinion based pieces on the issue.
The week of April 12th, Newsweek’s cover features the following title: “What Would Mary Do? How Women Can Save the Catholic Church From Its Sins”. There are two articles inside, “A Woman’s Place Is In the Church" by Lisa Miller, where the subtitle says a lot. “The cause of the catholic clergy’s sex-abuse scandal is no mystery: insular groups of men often do bad things. So why not break up the all-male club?”. The article feels a little contrived, specifically because it seems to be looking at one issue – the disempowerment of women in the Catholic Church and the sexist nature of such exclusions, particularly in the clergy – and tries to tie it in with another. The subtitle, and other passages, would have you believe that the article is trying to argue that women are incapable of sexual assault or cover-up of sexual assault, and that their inclusion in the church would lower inherently reduce such crimes. The article itself states that this is “obviously” untrue. The connection that it actually makes, albeit less clearly, is that the assault issues in the church are about power, and that this power is also at play in the institutional mistreatment of women by the church. Of course, this is never said directly, and if I could pinpoint a thesis for this article, I would say that Miller’s main point is that the church needs to modernize in order to fix its problems, including the long awaited inclusion of women. .
The next pages of the issue are filled with a response, “counterpoint” article which actually ends up saying almost the same thing. The article, “What Went Wrong” by George Weigel, concerns itself more with countering of the women issue than the sexual assault issue, by asserting (correctly) that “there are no gender guarantees when it comes to sexual abuse.” This article also uses examples of child sexual assault in schools and families, ALL examples of power imbalances and abuses thereof, to argue that this is not a problem unique to the catholic church and the religious policies (such as celibacy for the clergy) are not the thing that needs fixing. He uses the vows of the clergy to make the case that the church must emphasize these strict policies rather than modernization. The subtitle for this article was “Don’t blame celibacy. To fight the plague of sexual abuse, the church needs to become more catholic, not less,” one which I thought was more true to the article it preceded than the subtitle for Miller’s article.
[interestingly enough, Weigel’s article contains the following statement: “The Catholic Church in America has taken more rigorous action since 2002 to protect the young people in its care than any other similarly situated institution, to the point where the church is likely America’s safest environment for young people.” I’m not sure what he means by ‘similarly situated institution’ or even ‘rigorous action’, but it’s an interesting claim.]
When it comes to a discussion of sexual assault and the root of the problem, both of these articles almost say the same thing. They both deny that it has anything to do with religious practices such as celibacy. They both accuse the church of being concerned more with its image than with its youth. They both analyze the crisis by putting the abuses within the context of power, though neither of them directly say that this is the cause of the assaults. The closest quote I could find was in Miller’s article, was actually a quote taken by the Reverend Marie M. Fortune, founder of the multifaith organization FaithTrust Institute which aims to end sexual violence. “You can make a good argument that part of the problem is hierarchy,” doesn’t quite approach the conclusion which both authors hint at in their respective articles.
For more interesting articles: The recent coverage implies that survivors are usually boys – inspiring this article and more concerning the voice of girls also surviving abuse. I would suggest browsing www.catholic.org, because their defensive articles are met with a very interesting discussion in the comments section with contributions by skeptics, survivors, converts, and many people struggling with their relationship with their church and identity. Jezebel has also commented on the scandal, with this article (a response to an article in the Guardian) as well as others. If you have any other suggestions of interesting links, feel free to suggest them in the comments