Only the truth will free everyone from clerical child abuse’s terrible secrets and crimes. Justice will only give some comfort to the suffering victims. The harm can be healed but never undone. Pope Francis has enacted instructions and church laws that demand bishops admit mistakes, stop protecting pedophile priests, and hand them over to the civil authorities. Many refuse to do so.
However, the Swiss Bishops Conference decided that the better strategy than continued silence and denial of the continuing revelations in the media of widespread clerical child abuse was to come clean after decades of secrecy and clerical abuse cover-up. They commissioned independent research by the University of Zurich into clerical child abuse some time ago and are now facing the truth, as the world is, at the thousands of victims of clerical abuse revealed by the study’s partial results.
The bishops and church authorities must now be genuinely remorseful, ask forgiveness, and take responsibility for the abuse and cover-up. They must bring the clerical abusers to justice and compensate the victims. Will the Philippine hierarchy follow the Swiss, Portuguese, and French bishops’ example of contrition and confession of sins past and present and commission an independent investigation?
The University of Zurich research study commissioned by the Bishop’s Conference into church archives uncovered unpleasant, undeniable truths of clerical abuse that are only the tip of the enormous iceberg of abuse, the researchers say. They were unable to access much of the archives. Some diocesan files were destroyed. It was controlled research.
“Given what we know from research on the dark figure of crime, we assume that only a small percentage of cases was ever reported in the first place,” according to researchers Ms. Dommann and Ms. Meier. A victim/survivors group said: “For decades, the authorities of the Catholic Church in Switzerland have covered up these crimes, protecting the perpetrators and the reputation of their institution at the expense of the victims who were silenced.”
Child abuse in the Church and outside is a centuries-old crime, previously seldom recognized, trivialized, denied, condoned, tolerated, covered up, and hidden away. Complaints and cries for help and justice were subdued with threats and punishment of victims, and the perpetrators went free. Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth condemned child abuse and called on his followers to bring child abusers to account and severely punish them.
Today, most bishops with known pedophiles hiding in their diocese ignore that strong, uncompromising declaration for justice for child victims by Jesus himself, as found in Matthew 18:6-7 (Also in Luke 17: 1-2 and Mark 9:42). That abuse continues in the world, and most grievous of all, in the very institution that was founded to protect, defend, shelter and heal victims- the Christian Church.
As reported in a previous column, the clerical child abuse committed by some few pedophiles’ clergy stains the reputation of the many virtuous, dedicated, and committed priests and brothers and laypeople who are the majority of church members and live lives of virtue, self-sacrifice, and work for human rights and dignity. Many priests have given their lives for their people and are besmirched by the tolerance and protection of some church authorities of the clerical child abusers. It throws a dark cloud of suspicion over many good priests, and we must stand up and speak out and call for an end to such church tolerance.
In the Philippines, the powerful ruling elites that controlled the passing of laws in Congress blocked the efforts of child rights advocates for years to raise the age of consent for a child to have sexual relations from 12 years old to 16. However, this changed when powerful congresswomen were elected in recent years. Only in March 2022 the age when a child could consent was raised to 16. Any sexual act against a 16-year-old and younger is statutory sex abuse, according to Republic Act (RA) No. 11648.
Child abuse is also widespread in the Department of Education, a situation that most good teachers and principals find challenging to uncover. The dedicated Vice President Sara Duterte, the Education secretary, has a big challenge to eliminate child sexual abuse by male teachers. She should order their immediate suspension when credible evidence of abuse is presented. The latest case is that of a 40-year-old teacher in Olongapo that groomed his female student and allegedly raped an 11-year-old in a hotel. The action-minded Vice President Duterte could use some of the billions of confidential funds to compensate the child victims and reward whistle-blowers who report child-abusing teachers.
I have written about the Missio research into the clerical abuse of Religious Women in Asia and Africa. Many have been outspoken. Here is what more have said about the abuse they and their sisters endure and suffer. The report said: “The majority of the respondents gave the issue of abuse of women religious a very high level of importance. When asked what the Church was doing to address the issue, the overall answer was not much was being done.”
In summary, the respondents reported the reasons for this inaction by church authorities:
- A culture of denial.
- A sense of entitlement.
- A policy to conceal crimes and cover-up.
Some respondents said that speaking out against abuse is taboo.” Here is what the religious women said in the Missio survey:
One group said: “In general the issue is hidden under the carpet and the victim faces the burden alone. The bishops are afraid to open the topic in fear of losing their name and inability to face the shame. There have been instances where the victim committed suicide. In other cases the scandal is openly accepted and ignored.”
Another group reported that “…we have made many attempts to bring it (a case of sexual abuse by a bishop) to the attention of the national bishop’s conference, the nuncio and even the Vatican through letters though we have not had any positive response.”
“Often the victim is blamed as a seducer. So she will not have the confidence to tell what has happened.”
Another said: “Most of it is hidden, the women are shamed and the clerical predators stay in power.”
“Crimes are not reported because of “fear of insults, fear of spoiling the image of the congregation and oneself, fear of being blamed/labeled as “bold” ‘, fear of being threatened, fear of isolation and vindictiveness, …afraid of the reaction of the perpetrator, …afraid of …being sent away from the congregation.”
Another said: “I was told that I betrayed the Church when I spoke out about the abuses of women and children in the church.”
For some clergy, a group said: “The very notion of abuse does not exist. Many things are played down by saying that the women religious who have sexual experiences have agreed to it. They are not considered as victims.”
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