By Vexen Crabtree 2009
Christian clergy have been under much scrutiny over the last two decades after a long series of scandals involving sexual child abuse1. The cases have been shocking, wild, numerous, public, and they keep on rolloing on with no end in sight. Recently, an Australian fundamentalist pastor was jailed for incest and child abuse after spending the 1990s sleeping with his own two children in order to 'educate' them. Many cases have been settled out of court, some priests have quit, and some have committed suicide. Police and Western authorities have despaired, because they thought that the Christian churches were good place for children (hence governmental support for faith schools, etc). The situation is so bad that the police have called for routine checks of all priests. No other employer or community has such massive problems with sexual immorality than do Christian organisations; and it seems the stricter they are in their beliefs, the worse their transgressions are.
Christian Churches are often defensive about their views and effect on society, and they have often claimed that claims of sexual abuse (despite the evidence of abuse uncovered by police investigations) are actually attempts to discredit the church, rather than victims finally finding the courage to speak out. Many of the scandals have centered on the way that the Church shuffles accused priests around and hides allegations, even of priests that have been previously convicted in a court of law, often putting them back into supervisory contact with children. The Economist writes in 2002 after Catholic Cardinals and the Pope convened a meeting to discuss the issue, that "dismaying to Catholics is the fact that the hierarchy, in protecting such priests, plainly cared more for the institution of the church than for the souls of its children"2. Smaller denominations have just as many problems with balancing self-interest and morality: in 1989 the Jehovah's Witnesses' international HQ "issued a top-secret instruction to keep known child sex abusers in the congregations a secret" but the letter was eventually uncovered by a Court of Law3
The abuse has occurred in communities large and small, in private homes and in church. In 2008, the Pope was apologizing again, this time in person to President Bush, about the extent of the child sex abuse in the Catholic Church4 in the USA, and the Canadian prime minister made an official apology to his indigenous population, because "between 1870 and 1996, an estimated 150,000 indigenous children were wrenched from their homes and sent to Christian boarding schools, where many were sexually and physically abused"5. Not even schools have been safe from the secret violence. The worst frequency of abuse has been when Christians themselves live with other Christians, as we see in "Christianity and Sexuality: The Damaging Results of Faulty Teachings: 6. Internal Abuse" by Vexen Crabtree (2015).
In 2010 the Pope met with German senior Catholics to discuss 170 child abuse cases by German priests, and German Bishop Robert Zollitsch apologised again to victims of the abuse.6
"Last year [in 2001] the Pope sent an apology by e-mail for a string of injustices committed by clergy in the Pacific nations, which included priests and missionaries forcing nuns to have sex and then abortions" -- "Pope denounces 'evil' sex priests" (BBC News 2002)7
"2% of the priest population can be classified as true pedophiles with a three to one preference for boys. This gender attraction is reversed in the general population. [...] 4% of the priest population become sexually involved with adolescents"8.
Father James Porter victimized 200 minors in the 12 years between 1960 and 1972 when he was active in the priestly ministry. Many of his victims report violent rape, cruel humiliation, and punishment that can only be described as sadistic. [...] One priest who "saw" Porter rape a child defended him, when confronted by a parishioner, with response, "Father is only human." [...] In 1993 he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 years in prison for a portion of his offenses.
Many priests, even those sent for psychiatric treatment for child abuse, are kept in positions of authority in the Church9. Maybe because the Church is lacking so many priests, and to expel them all would be too damaging to the structure of the Church.
More than a dozen suicides by priests facing public exposure of their sexual activity were recorded between 1990 and 199310.
8 solicitors representing 8 firms say that the "Catholic Church is incapable of stopping abuse and must be called to account. [... They] have written a letter to The Times (17 January) saying that the Church is still covering up crimes by priests and is incapable of policing itself. They call for a full public inquiry not only into the Catholic Church but also into the Church of England". The solicitors said:
From cases we are handling currently, we are aware of some 41 Catholic priests who have been convicted of serious sexual offences in the recent past. Yet these very same organisations, particularly in the Catholic Church, have persistently ignored and in many cases covered up complaints of abuse [...] and we believe these are the tip of the iceberg. The culture of cover-up has been embedded in the Catholic Church for decades if not centuries.
On 2011 Sep 23, the IHEU (International Humanist and Ethical Union) spoke at the 18th session of the UN Human Rights Council, condemning the Vatican "for attempting to undermine democracy and human rights by insisting that child abuse cases be judged under the churches' own rules of canon law rather than the laws of the state"11.
It is not mentally possible to continually comment on the broadening scandal, but needless to say from 2011 the horrors continued to occur. In 2018 Sep, the Pope finally summoned over 100 of the most senior Bishops to the Vatican to discuss the ongoing sexual abuse scandal which has been "reignited this year by more evidence of abuse, and cover-ups in Chile, Australia, Ireland and the US [as] pressure was mounting on the Pope himself, over his own handling of clerical abuse allegations"12.
The financial cost for Christians Churches has been great. Ongoing claims in Ireland continue to receive news coverage:
Faith-based welfare was the norm in Ireland up until only a few short years ago. The Catholic Church, in all its compassion, ran schools, orphanages, children's homes, hospitals - just about everything. The result? A catalogue of cruelty and abuse that has left the state with a compensation bill that could run into billions of euros - not to mention thousands of damaged and traumatised individuals who will never properly recover from the physical, mental and sexual torture they suffered at the hands of priests and nuns. In 2002, the Catholic Church agreed to pay over €128m in cash and property to the State as part of a deal to prevent bankruptcy - the actual total is more likely to be between €1bn and €1.3bn. [...]
To date, the average award has been €66,845. Some 23 victims received the maximum award of €300,000. More than 14,500 compensation applications for sexual, emotional or physical abuse were received by the board by the 2005 deadline.”
In the USA there have been massive costs resulting from legal cases. In 2008 alone, the Catholic Church in the USA paid $436 million in costs resulting from sexual abuse by clergy14. Recently the USA LA Catholic Church has paid five hundred victims a total of $660m to settle cases dating from the 1940s.
“In January, the Catholic Church in Ireland agreed to a $110m payment to children abused by the clergy over decades. More than 20 priests, brothers and nuns have been convicted of molesting children. The US archdiocese of Boston has agreed to pay between $15m and $30m to scores of people to settle claims that a priest sexually abused them when they were children.”
Some Churches have been contemplating declaring bankruptcy, as long ago as 1993, as a result of the scale of the damages they need to pay to the victims of these crimes:
“In 1993, two archdioceses, Chicago and Santa Fe, declared themselves in danger of bankruptcy due, at least in part, to compensation paid to victims of clergy abuse. Dioceses and religious orders have also paid for legal expenses involved in defending priests and themselves in civil and criminal suits in connection with child abuse, as well as treatment costs for the psychiatric care of priest perpetrators. Compensation, treatment, and legal costs are estimated to have passed the half-billion mark between 1984 and 1994 (Wojcik, 1994).”
And LA's Catholic Church in 2003:
“The accounts for the last fiscal year, which ended in June 2003, showed a deficit not of $4.3m, as had been predicted, but of $13.4m. Critics of the new cathedral, which cost $190m, were quick to place blame, but [...] about half of the deficit, $7.7m, was a one-off settlement of claims of sexual abuse by priests. [...] Some 300 claims of abuse in Los Angeles are under investigation. Ten priests already face charges.”
The Economist (2003)16
Although the legal cases of the past few decades have raised public awareness about paedophile priests, the problem is ancient. The oldest existing commentary on the Christian gospels, the Didaché of the early second century, found it necessary to command that "thou shalt not seduce young boys". Richard Sipe continues by highlighting a trend that has been reflected in church texts since the second century:
“The earliest church council for which we have any records, that of Elvira in 309, has 81 Canons, of which 38 deal with sex. [...] Among those who are threatened with irrevocable exclusion - that is, they could not receive communion even at the time of death (nec in finem) are "bishops [...] committing a sexual sin" (Canon 18), "those who sexually abuse boys" (Canon 71).”
The problems of the ancient church and its grasp of practical sexual morality mirrors shortcomings that Christian churches have today. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries it was noted that sexual offenders moved from one Christian province to another even after they had been excommunicated for their abuse18. This was sometimes the cause of scandals; the same movement of abusive priests has caused outrage in the press in recent decades19.
Breaking into the second millennium of Christianity, the same problems continue. One record I stumbled across in the accounts of the historian Will Durant concerned sex crime cases from 1499. "Clerical offenders numbered 23 per cent of the total, though the clergy were probably less than 2 per cent of the population"20. Attempts at reform have been useless. The Council of Trent (1545-63) was held in order to curb abuses in the Church. Pope Julius III presided over this council for three years from 1550. The same pope entered a sexual liaison with a 15-year-old boy he had picked up on the streets of Parma17. The omens were clearly not good for the success of that council. That such abuse has been endemic within Christian institutions for so long points to something fundamentally wrong with Christian teachings on sexuality.
Unfortunately, we should follow these historical abstractions with solid examples from our present time, in order to make it clear what types of behaviour we are talking about:
The Archdiocese of Boston in the USA became infamous for the scale of paedophile abuse (and other criminal behaviour) of its Christian clergy. There was an organized and determined extended cover-up over a long period of time involving many of the clergy, all of whom acted to protect each other rather than protect future and past victims. One of the factors that has caused most outrage is the standard procedure where paedophile priests were simply moved to a different location after victims came to light. The news articles linked on the right provide a seemingly endless stream of stubborn offence, re-offence and acts of looking-the-other-way. At the height of the revelations in the first half of 2002, the number of priests who left their post or were removed, numbered 200 out of a total of 46 000 priests in the USA21. That's half a percent of all priests, in just half a year. Sipe, who wrote a book on the issue, found in 1995 that a full 2% of all priests are paedophiles8, with the additional data uncovered in 2002, that looks more likely to be an astounding 3%.
“Over 800 complaints of sexual abuse had been lodged against priests in 2008. However, only 10 of those complaints involved recent activity; most of the complaints involved alleged offenses in the 1960s and 1970s, and nearly all of the priests accused are deceased, retired, or otherwise inactive. Several dioceses declined to participate fully in the audits and child-protection programs suggested by the staff of the bishops' conference. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, has consistently refused to allow audits.”
Seven years earlier:
“Thousands of newly released personnel files show that the Archdiocese of Boston went to great lengths to hide priests accused of abuse, including clergy who allegedly snorted cocaine and had sex with girls aspiring to be nuns. The first round of the documents – roughly 3,000 pages on eight Roman Catholic priests – were made public Tuesday on a Superior Court order. They [...] included allegations that clergy sexually abused teenage girls and used cocaine and other drugs, and that one led a "double life" by carrying on an affair with a female parishioner.
Many of the priests whose files were released are not among the 400 clergy members targeted in the dozens of lawsuits against the archdiocese. But attorneys for plaintiffs hope the documents show the archdiocese had a habit of transferring priests to other parishes even after accusations of child abuse.”
"Archdiocese of Boston hid accused priests" (Fox News 2002)
Another seven years earlier:
“Several accounts already record the extent, history and struggles of the sexual abuse of minors by priests in the United States (Berry, 1992; Burkett & Bruni, 1993; Rossetti, 1990; Sipe, 1990a). [...] A quick review of the alleged priest abusers who have come to legal attention demonstrates the trend: 10 priests of a total of 97 in a Southwestern diocese; 9 of 110 in a Midwestern diocese; 7 of 91 in a Southern diocese; 15 of 220, and 40 in a diocese of 279 in the Eastern United States. [...] Sixty Catholic priests and brothers were in prison on sexual abuse charges as of September 1994.”
One of the latest summaries is that of the famous liberal, Bishop John Selby Spong, in 2009, who admits that despite the horrific events that have been uncovered so far, there is more to come:
“There was a history of bishops and archbishops moving offending clergy to another jurisdiction rather than confronting the issue. [... If] the abuse and the cover-up were quite systemic, [...] it must have involved people in high places, including bishops, archbishops and cardinals. [...] I do not [...] believe that thus far there has been anything like a full disclosure, so the issue will not end yet.”
Retired Bishop John Selby Spong (2009)22
After further evidence of abuse and cover-ups was revealed in 2018 and the Pope has been continually criticized for failing to provide meaningful leadership in his organisation on this issue, he finally summoned over 100 of the most senior Bishops to the Vatican to discuss it. The pontiff met with US cardinals and bishops last week to discuss how Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington DC, rose to be a cardinal of the Church despite credible allegations of sexual abuse"12.
Ireland has seen a long line of child abuse scandals from within the Catholic Church, but, the particular twist taken in this country is the leaking of government documents by Edward Snowden, revealing the political battle that Catholic Church has been involved in with its attempts to stall and prevent investigations from taking place, including a long history of its staff hiding paedophiles, moving them around, and no matter what, not reporting them to the police. The Murphy Commission and the Cloyne Report finally revealed most of these antics to the public in the early 2010s. This has occurred at the local level, and, worse of all, centrally from within the Vatican. Any "moral" ground the church once had has evaporated, and it is clear to all that its sole concern is its own power and influence. Between 1991 and 2011, the number of non-religious, atheist and agnostic folk quadrupled, and the percent of Catholics in the population dropped to its lowest figure ever, although this is still a pretty high number at 84% of the population23.
"In Ireland, an inquiry found that, over six decades, child abuse had been endemic at many Catholic institutions for boys. The head of the Irish Catholic church said he was profoundly sorry".
"In January, the Catholic Church in Ireland agreed to a $110m payment to children abused by the clergy over decades. More than 20 priests, brothers and nuns have been convicted of molesting children".
52 schools, run by Catholic religious orders, that took in children that were either very troublesome, or the offspring of parents who were too poor to look after them, have all been closed in Ireland. The Irish government launched an inquiry into abuse at these 'industrial' schools. The Christian Brothers, who ran some of these schools, "have also been implicated in sex scandals in Canada. More than 300 former pupils at Mount Cashel orphanage, Newfoundland, have alleged the lay brothers abused them".
"In Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady, the primate, has admitted that he was present in 1975 when two [boys aged 10 and 14] were persuaded to sign oaths of silence about their abuse by Father Brendan Smyth. The church defrocked Smyth, but nobody, including Cardinal Brady, told the police about his crimes and he remained free to abuse boys for two decades".
The Murphy Commission reported on 320 cases of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy between 1975 and 2004 in the Dublin archdiocese alone. Once all of this was revealed, the Vatican used its historical political ties with the Irish government to attempt to stop the investigations and delay them. The "Vatican refused to co-operate and only let officials visit Ireland once they'd been given immunity from having to testify". A leaked cable "reveals the behind-the-scenes diplomacy in which politicians in the Irish government attempted to persuade an imperious Vatican to engage with the investigation. [...] Requests for information from the 2009 Murphy commission into sexual and physical abuse by clergy "offended many in the Vatican" who felt that the Irish government had "failed to respect and protect Vatican sovereignty during the investigations", a cable says". In other words: "disrespect" meant "not helping us cover it up" and "trying to force us to give evidence on something on something we're trying to hide". The Vatican said that requests for co-operation were straining relations itself and between Irish government. Yet, they had both moral and political reason to co-operate to help end child abuse. What override both moral and political concerns was the Catholic drive to protect their religion: That was the true problem that was straining relations!
The Cloyne Report (on Catholic child abuse in Ireland, and its cover-up by the Catholic Church) had its final chapter published in 2011.
“Once more a catalogue of cover-ups and lies is revealed at the very highest echelons of the Church. Its publication has prompted Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter to reassert that stricter laws are needed to protect children. [... The publication] yet again details the failure of the Church to comply with its own child abuse guidelines and its failure to ensure that allegations of abuse when first received were brought to the notice of [the police]," said Mr Shatter. "The litany of allegations made and the failure to appropriately report cases of abuse reinforces the need to enact a statutory measure for the protection of children in the future". The newly-published chapter tells how former Bishop John Magee did not adequately deal with complaints in his Co Cork diocese against a cleric with the pseudonym of Fr Ronat. The earlier report had shown that Bishop Magee deliberately misled authorities and was failing to report abuse until as recently as three years ago.”
After further evidence of abuse and cover-ups in Ireland was revealed in 2018 there was a new wave of criticism of the Pope for failing to provide meaningful leadership in his organisation on this issue, so he finally summoned over 100 of the most senior Bishops to the Vatican to discuss it12.
The United Kingdom has seen many cases of paedophile priests, including many cases where Bishops and other senior Christians have protected paedophiles, moving them from post to post when accusations surface.
London's Ealing Abbey and St Benedicts School: "The Charity Commission has issued an unusually strongly-worded criticism of the monks of Ealing Abbey in west London, when one of their number, who was known to have abused children, was allowed to have contact with a teenager at the abbey, who he then sexually assaulted. "Father" David Pearce, a former head teacher at St Benedict's Junior School, was jailed in October after he belatedly admitted 10 indecent assaults and one sexual assault. Complaints of abuse against Pearce had already been heard in a civil court and damages were awarded against him. He was allowed to return to the Abbey, but was arrested in 2008 for sexually assaulting a sixth-form pupil who was employed to wash up for the monks. [...] The report said that the Diocese of Westminster was well aware of the allegations against Pearce and had told the trustees to keep him away from children or young people. The trustees failed to do this, and the consequent assault took place"26.
As of 2011 November, two perpetrators of sex crimes against children have been convicted, and another has jumped bail. In 2009 Oct, Father David Pearce "was jailed for eight years over a string of sex attacks on five young boys, four under 14, at St Benedict's over a period of 36 years. Earlier this month police revealed they were hunting a Catholic cleric wanted over allegations of child abuse reported to date back to when he taught at St Benedict's. Father Laurence Soper, who was abbot of Ealing Abbey from 1991 to 2000, failed to return to a police station for questioning. He is believed to have been living in a monastery in Rome and was due to return to London to answer bail in March, but he failed to turn up".27
Buckfast Abbey in Devon was under investigation for clerical child abuse, and the Catholic Church had appointed Christopher Jarvis to lead their inquiry. "The scale of abuse now being uncovered at Buckfast Abbey is disturbing. Paul Crouch 'Father Benedict' had already been jailed for ten years in 2007 for a string of offences with boys stretching over 20 years. One victim had been 'so terrified that he hid in his locker' and had 'complained to the school Matron in 1987', After an internal investigation, Crouch was allowed to carry on teaching and the police were not alerted. Father William Manahan, called 'Daddy Prior', was jailed, also in 2007, for 15 months for abuse between 1971 and 1978". Unfortunately, the safeguarding officer Chris Jarvis has now himself been jailed "for having 4,000 child abuse images on his work laptop computer, including ten involving sadistic violence, the most serious category"28 and including making and distributing child porn27.
That's not quite the end due to another case unrelated to Buckfast Abbey. A now-deceased monk Father Edward Stewart 'is alleged to have repeatedly abused a young boy over three years. Even worse is that it has become clear that Stewart was moved around parishes in Britain and Scandinavia despite (and of course because of) 'frequent complaints about his behaviour'.'
Buckfast Abbey brought in a replacement safeguarding co-ordinator, Father James Courtney, who has happened to previously 'discovered a trunk of photographs of adolescent boys engaged in sexual activities belonging to Stewart but neither he nor the Abbot reported them to the police, and the incriminating material was destroyed.' Such inactivity in the face of such serious immoral and criminal behaviour is hardly a good sign for a safety officer whose job it is to look after children's welfare against sexual abuse, especially as that person is replacing the previous safeguarding officer because he's been convicted for the type of offense he was supposed to be stopping!28
Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society again highlighted his common-sense argument that no-one in the Church should be a child protection officer, and that all current plans to try to curb child abuse by Church officials lack independence.
The paedophile Roman Catholic priest, Father Eric Taylor, was convicted on 16 charges of indecent assault. He worked at an Orphanage in Staffordshire. He already had previous convictions for indecent assault in 1975, where he abused four boys at his vicarage. Some of his victims had committed suicide "because they could not live with what the priest had done to them".
Father Anthony McSweeney, a Catholic priest aged 68, was under investigation for abusing 3 boys. He owned a "large collection" of gay porn, which he admitted to Southwark Crown Court, and, John Stingemore, a friend, had previously shown him porn including some child porn, and he did not think to do anything about it, and did not tell anyone about it, even though Mr Stingemore is a care home manager.29. Together, they preyed on children at Grafton Close children's home in Hounslow, London. McSweeney was also "a member of the governing body of a Catholic school. [...] He was also found guilty of three counts of making indecent images of children between 2012 and 2013". Two Bishops in the Catholic Church had "ignored at least two clear warning signs of his sexual interest in children" but he was merely made subject to internal disciplinary procedures - he was sent for therapy and not reported to the police. He was jailed for three years.30. If the Bishops involved acted properly, the police could have obtained more timely evidence and the conviction could have been somewhat longer, and sooner.
I only have one file on record for France, but it reveals that in 2001 there were "19 priests under investigation for rape or sexual assault on minors". 30 had been convicted "in recent years" of those offences. It is astounding how such practices and abuses can continue within the Church. The first French Bishop to ever appear in the dock was Monsignor Pican, who admitted lying to conceal the activity of a paedophile priest, Father Rene Bissey, who had raped and abused at least 11 young boys. The Bishop sent the priest for psychiatric help and moved him to a different nearby parish. It is hard to imagine why Priests and Bishops protect each other even when it means that innocent young children suffer from serious sexual abuse. The climate of sexual repression that stems from Christian beliefs is to blame both the resulting deviancy of priests, and the astounding ineptitude of Christian authorities in dealing with sexual abusers in its ranks. It seems that the teachings of Christian Churches on sexuality are rooted more in delusion than in truth, and this leads both to deviancy and the inability to manage deviants.
I haven't been collecting any statistics on abuse of children by priests in Germany, but, this year (2010) a BBC News article mentioned that there are 170 child abuse cases there by Catholic priests alone6, for which German Bishop Robert Zollitsch apologised, and Catholic Pope discussed these cases at a meeting in Germany. Cases in 18 of 27 dioceses in Germany are being investigated at the moment in 2010.
Norbert Denef was suffered sexual abuse by a priest for five years, starting at the age of just 10 years old, while attending a boys choir in the late 1950s to the 1960s. Denef says "I felt I was in a dark place, in solitary confinement". And in a shocking and unfortunate twist, he was then abused for a further three years by a Church organist. It is either naivety or sexual blindness that allows this behaviour to continue for so long undetected - or at least unchallenged - and until the Catholic Church massively changes its attitude towards sexuality, sexual education, and priestly celibacy, we should not assume Christian organisations to be safe places for minors or the vulnerable of society.
Germany's justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, has criticized the Catholic Church for its "wall of silence" over child abuse, saying that the Vatican's rule on secrecy was impeding investigation of these cases.
“In recent weeks [...] around 300 more [victims have come forward] in Germany. [...] While archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, his [The Pope's] diocese accepted a paedophile cleric who was supposedly intended to undergo therapy. But the priest (who for legal reasons may not be identified in media that can be read in Germany) was assigned to a parish where he taught at a school and abused at least one more child. [...] After being convicted in 1986, the Bavarian priest was banned from working with children but not unfrocked. Two years ago he was sent to yet another parish where by last summer he was saying mass at a camp site for young people. It was only on March 15th, three days after the archdiocese released details of his case, that he was suspended for breaking the ban. His boss, the parish priest in Bad Tölz, in deeply Catholic rural Bavaria, said he had never been told of the offending cleric's past. The previous day brought dramatic scenes at the parish church, as members of the congregation barracked a replacement priest taking the mass. Some walked out.”
The Economist (2010) article "Evil orders: Paedophilia and the Catholic church"31
A head of Austria's Catholic Church, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, was accused of sexually molesting boys and monks. He resigned in 1995 over it (after being in his post for 9 years), and died, disgraced, in 2003, still unrepentant. The Vatican itself investigated the claims and found them "in essence" to be true. In 1998 Feb, a bishop apologised for everything Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer "and other church dignitaries" had done.
“Hubertus Czernin, who published a book on the case, Das Buch Groer, in 1998, said he believed that Groer had abused more than 2,000 young men. "His sexual harassment began in the 1950s, continued in the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties and even in the Nineties," Czernin said later. "The last case I know of was in 1996, when he was an old man and had already been kicked out as Archbishop of Vienna but had returned to his monastery in Lower Austria."”
"Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer: Disgraced Archbishop of Vienna"
The Independent newspaper (2003)
500,000 Catholics in Austria signed a petition against the Catholic Church's stance on sexuality, women and homosexuality, all of which are intolerant and repressive (two things that also lead to sexual deviancy). Whatever lessons the public learnt from this, the Church itself continued in its unfortunate ways and within a few years, another scandal came to light. In yet another case of unlikely naivety, Bishop Kurt Krenn says that the 40,000 sexual images were 'a prank'.
“Several pressure groups have called on Bishop Kurt Krenn to quit, after child pornography was allegedly found at a Catholic priests' training college. [...] As many as 40,000 sexual images were allegedly found, but Bishop Krenn has dismissed them as a "schoolboy prank". Officers confiscated computer hard drives from the seminary at St Poelten, about 80km (50 miles) west of [...Vienna]. The news magazine Profil said photographs showed senior clerics kissing and fondling trainees. Pictures of children were also allegedly found. [...] The director of the seminary, Ulrich Kuechl, has already resigned, as has his deputy Wolfgang Rothe. The Austrian Church has not forgotten a previous sex scandal, when Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer was replaced in 1995 amid allegations that he had molested young boys.”
"Bishop defiant over sex scandal" (BBC News 2004)
“The Roman Catholic Church in Hong Kong says two more priests have been accused of sexually abusing children, days after three clergymen were accused of a similar offence. [...] Reverend Lee told the Post the alleged abuses took place over the past 11 years. The Church had previously said they happened over three decades.”
"More HK priests accused of abuse" (BBC News, 2002)
After these initial complaints, the police's special hotline resulted in the recording of many more historical cases that had not previously been investigated. "Superintendent Shirley Chu told reporters the three new cases allegedly took place in the 1960s and 1970s and involved boys studying at secondary schools".
“Since the Hong Kong allegations broke, Church officials there have referred serious cases to the police, saying they are adopting a "zero tolerance" policy toward sexual abuse of children.”
"HK investigates new child abuse claims" (BBC News, 2002 May 15)
It seems that the Church in all quarters of the world has a policy of covering for their abusive fellows rather than reporting them to the police in order to protect children. In Hong Kong, a public outcry followed revelations that the church had not reported cases of abuse that it had itself known about the abuse much earlier. The priest Michael Lau was found by a Church investigation to have molested a boy on two occasions in 1994 (eight years earlier). This institution which looks after itself and its own rather than protect children in its care, the Catholic Church, runs 300 schools and nurseries in Hong Kong.
There has been a lot of historical abuse of children by individual Christian clergy over previous decades, but also, systematic abuse of children by Christian institutions in Australia. Well after the revelations of the Catholic Church's horrendous activities in Australia in the 1930s to 1960s, continued cases have come to light. So many that in 2008 July, Pope Benedict XVI has himself gone to Australia to apologize for the behaviour of his priesthood there. The Christian Brothers institute saw multiple complaints between 1919 and the 1960s, and a report finds that one of the boys who reported the abuse was physically beaten for it - "the physical abuse at the institutions contributed to a culture where boys were reluctant to report abuse for fear of consequences" and the institution moved 'Brothers' from one place to another when accusations surfaced, but did not attempt to deal with the abuse and then when it all went to concern, they were mostly concerned with avoiding financial costs32.
More cases have emerged amongst Priests from various denominations. Australian Catholic Priest Brian Joseph Spillane finds himself accused of seemingly endless abuses of teens and pre-teens in various circumstances (i.e., in the confessional box and at a Catholic boarding school), between 1971 and 1990. The Salvation Army in Australia is another Christian organisation that has fostered sexual abusers - "boys who attempted to report abuse were punished or accused of lying" according to the Royal Commission33. In another case, a Pastor from a (non-Catholic) Protestant church was caught out in the 1990s. The RCC in Australia, in order to limit further damage, has drawn up guidelines to prevent further abuse. "Roman Catholic bishops have sought to ban their priests from having any private contact with children. Guidelines drawn up with the approval of the Vatican mean that confessionals have to be fitted with glass viewing panels. Priests are also banned from seeing any child alone with the door closed"34.
Some news excerpts:
“Australia's Roman Catholic Church publicly apologised on Thursday to British and Maltese child migrants who suffered abuse including rape, whippings and slave labour in religious institutions. [...] Some children were told that were going on a holiday. [...] Two church bodies said the programme, in which more than 1,000 British and 310 Maltese children were sent to Australian Catholic schools between the late 1930s and 1960s, resulted in "suffering and dislocation". Many children were raped, whipped, stripped of their names and forced to scramble for food thrown on the floor. Some children were also made to do hard labour, including construction work, at some schools.
The inquiry found that migrant children were subjected to systematic abuse in religious schools in Australia, New Zealand and other countries.”
"Australian Church apologises to child migrants" (BBC News, 2001)
“MOLESTING girls in the confessional box and raping hypnotised boys was part of a pattern of "rampant pedophilia" by a former priest accused of sexually assaulting youngsters, a Sydney court has been told. Brian Joseph Spillane, a former chaplain at St Stanislaus College in Bathurst, [...] has been charged with an additional 29 counts of indecently assaulting 11 males and females, bringing the total number of charges against the former priest to 146. [...] Ms Walker said Mr Spillane sexually assaulted both boys and girls between 1971 and 1990 during his time at both St Stanislaus boys' school in NSW's central west and St Anthony's parish at Marsfield, in Sydney's north. [...] Mr Spillane is accused of serious offences including anal intercourse and group rape at the Bathurst boarding school, Ms Walker said. Teachers at St Stanislaus "hypnotised boys for the purpose of having sexual intercourse with them'', she told the court.”
“A pastor from a South Australian fundamentalist church has been jailed for eight-and-a-half years after admitting he had sex with two of his teenage daughters [...and] pleaded guilty to seven counts each of incest and unlawful sexual intercourse. The court heard that the man had sex with his daughters for nearly a decade in the 1990s at the family property. The man later told the court he had sex with the girls to "educate" them on how to be good wives - not for his own gratification.”
After further evidence of abuse and cover-ups in Australia was revealed in 2018, criticism of the Pope for failing to provide meaningful leadership in his organisation on this issue resurfaced, so he finally summoned over 100 of the most senior Bishops to the Vatican to discuss it12.
"In recent weeks at least 350 victims have come forward in the Netherlands" [The Economist (2010) article "Evil orders: Paedophilia and the Catholic church"]31.
“A Dutch investigative TV programme has uncovered documents in church archives that show that the Catholic Church was aware of child abuse at orphanages and other institutions throughout the Netherlands as early as 1954. Senior church officials have consistently denied that they knew of the abuses. [...]
Lawyer Martin de Witte, who is representing a number of victims, said the letters showed the church could no longer say it was not aware of the abuse and claim that the cases are now too old. 'They knew exactly what was going on but decided to do nothing about it,' De Witte told the newspaper Volkskrant.
It was revealed two years ago that three Catholic clerics from the Don Rua cloisters in 's-Heerenberg, Gelderland, had abused at least three children in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, a government commission has received reports of almost 2,000 cases of abuse within religious institutions, a number of which will be taken to court.”
"In Brazil a priest and two monsignors have just been suspended from their church duties following allegations of involvement in the making if a sex video involving a youth" [The Economist (2010) article "Evil orders: Paedophilia and the Catholic church"31].
Much of the sexual abuse within Christian churches is internal, for example between priests and student priests, including seniors ignoring and reprimanding juniors when they complained of sexual abuse, and widespread admittance that the seniors themselves had such experiences as juniors. "After reviewing 473 priests or histories of priests who have [abused children] seventy to eighty percent of [them] have themselves been abused as children, some by priests. Furthermore, a high percentage of those who later abused youngsters - whether or not they themselves were abused as children - were in effect given permission for such activity by a priest or religious superior who himself crossed the sexual boundary with the priest abuser during the time he was studying for ordination. Ten percent of priests report that they were approached sexually by a priest during the time of their theological studies"35. Many have theorized that Christianity's teachings result in a dysfunctional idea of sexuality.
The Human Rights Council (HRC) of the United Nations met in Geneva on 2009 Sep 22, where the Catholic Church was challenged over its response to its child abuse horrors. The Vatican's official UN observer was present, Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi. This religious body's presence at the UN HRC is nowadays matched by the non-religious secular representative of atheism and suchlike, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), who in this instance was Mr Keith Porteous Wood, who is also the director of the UK's National Secular Society, a body that lobbies for politics and religion to be kept separate.36
Keith Porteous Wood set the context by recalling that in 1990 "the Holy See acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It submitted its first and only report in 1994 - about which CRC expressed several areas of concern. But since then - nothing". The RCC has breached five of its Articles. Some of the most serious complaints which he then iterated were that the Church had not taken claims of child abuse seriously, had not acted on cases that were clearly within its power to act upon, had accused many victims of making up stories and has moved offenders to one place to another instead of reporting them to authorities as instructed to do.36
Bishop Silvano Maria Tomasi's reply contained some quite odd reasoning. Some of his arguments were that actually, homosexuals were to blame, that abuse has occurred in other institutions too, not just in the Catholic Church, and that the church has acted on at least two occasions by issuing statements to its priests. Probably as a result of continued revelations of cover-ups and scandals, the Archbishop also mentions that the Catholic Church, in its second report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, will devote an entire paragraph to the problem of child abuse by the clergy. I hope it is a truly efficiently-written paragraph, as I do know how busy the Church is tackling other problems, such as the evils of contraception. The Vatican's defence of child abuse by its staff rests on a few further points that Archbishop Tomasi raises:
This appalling and dismissive response misses the point - the Archbishop was called to defend the Vatican against claims it had breached 5 Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but instead spent most his time pointing out that Catholic priests were not the only ones at it. Not only that, but his comparison was misleading as, as the IHEU pointed out, there are far more Protestants in the USA than there are Catholics. When I first estimated that 3% of Christian priests were involved in recurring cases of child abuse, I thought that this number might be too horrible to be true. The Archbishop, however, actually agreed:
“From available research we now know that in the last fifty years somewhere between 1.5% and 5% of the catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases.”
Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi (2009)36
I am quite sure that the Archbishop, given his other dismissive defences, is himself repeating a conservative claim of the numbers of clergy involved, and I suspect with horror that the number might therefore be over five percent.
Warren Steed Jeffs is a Christian who was once the President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ('FLDS') from 2002 until his arrest in 2007. This is a Mormon denomination - a branch of Christianity devoted entirely to the written word of the Bible. Through his own sexual conduct and that of his church, Warren Steed Jeffs managed to accomplish the feat of getting himself on to the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted List" on account of the scale of his sex crimes within his congregation, including sex with minors and incest, and, arranging (lots) of illegal marriages between males in the FLDS and underage girls.
Many consider this to be the result of the overbearing immorality of one man. But, the entire community went along with it - some 7,000 residents in one area. Religion should never trump human rights for this very reason - it allows despots, madmen and barbarians to reign free, simply because they think they are doing god's will. And, of course, thousands of others agree that it makes sense that they could be doing god's will. Despite the lessons of history, people refuse to ask deep questions when it comes to religious dogma and religious leadership. Out of a selfish desire to get to heaven, they let themselves be led astray by crazy people, into cultures that en masse descend into madness.
The Christian church talks about doing good but now its dirty secrets are out. There is one diabolical organisation that has suffered an opposite fate: frequently accused (falsely, so far) of ritual child abuse, the Church of Satan has watched the truth emerge about Christian priests with a jaded feeling of I knew it! Its high priest, Peter Gilmore, wrote "who can ignore the continuing media-touted scandal of child molestation perpetrated by Christian clergymen?" in his essay The Tide Turns in 199437.
Dr Frederick Berlin, an expert on sexual disorders who has acted as a consultant for the US church, has found there is no particular trend for people who are already paedophiles to join the Christian priesthood38. In other words, it is their development within the Church that leads priests into acts of (sometimes violent) sexual indecency against children. The situation is so bad that the police have called for routine checks of all priests. No other employer or community has such massive problems with sexual immorality than do Christian organisations. The problem is correlated with strictness; the most liberal churches have seen far fewer cases in proportion to their size than have fundamentalist or even mainstream churches39. In other words, as Christian ideas of sexuality are taken more seriously, the incidence of sexual dysfunction increases. These are not new problems - Church councils since the very first centuries have discovered that Christianity goes hand in hand with sexual panic, and in the records of some of the earliest Church convenes, we find an extensive and almost all-consuming focus upon matters of sexuality and of transgressions by practitioners. There is something fundamentally wrong with what the Bible teaches on sexuality - their (often violent) intolerance of homosexuality is only the tip of the iceberg. My page on religion and sexuality highlights this problem for religion in general:
“Psychologists and sociologists have noted the association between extreme religious fervour and psycho-sexual problems (the former causing the latter), and the highly negative stance that many monotheistic religions take towards sexuality in general have contributed to a general malaise amongst their lay adherents, and a serious pandemic of abuse amongst professional religionists. The religious attitude towards religion is to behave like an ostrich and stick its head in the sand, hoping that theology can override biological truth, but merely making its victims unable to cope with adult sexuality. Witness the hateful and confusing statements that Christians and Muslims make about homosexuals, the anti-contraception stance that the Catholic church has in an over-crowded world ridden with disease, the harmful and simplistic rejection of abortion and the patriarchal dominance over women that has gone hand-in-hand with traditional religion on every continent.
Many religious practices are somewhat more positive towards sexuality than Christianity. The scholar Veronique Mottier gives the example of Judaism, which disapproves of abstinence40. Karen Armstrong reminds us that "Certain sects in Buddhism and Hinduism have used sex as a mystical activity. Everybody has heard of the Karma Sutra but not everybody is aware that this is not just a sex manual, but a method of achieving transcendence and spiritual enlightenment. Christianity is unique in having hated and outlawed sex and in making people feel guilty because they are sexual beings"41. But it is not just the subject of sex which is important to a discussion on sexuality - it still must be remembered that all traditional religions have normalized the dominance of men over women, and often obsessed over matters such as female dress.”
Some within Christian academia have come to some similar conclusions:
“Catholic piety has required the repression of healthy sexuality for service in this institution. Unfortunately, when healthy sexuality is repressed, unhealthy sexuality always rises. Repressed sexuality comes back as pornography and child abuse. Perhaps the place where Rome ought to begin is to ask why sexual abstinence or celibacy is a prerequisite for leadership. I think that is where sickness enters the tradition.”
Retired Bishop John Selby Spong (2009)22
And in 2010 Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, voiced a similar-sounding opinion in a diocese magazine, suggesting that the Catholic Church should examine its policy of celibacy and that resolution of these problems "requires a great deal of honesty, both on the part of the Church and of society as a whole"6 although I am not sure it is the honesty of society as a whole that is in question, given the scale of sexual abuse cover-ups by Christian churches. Speaking of honesty, after the Cardinal's comments were noted by the outside world, including the Pope, the Cardinal issued a follow-up statement saying that priestly celibacy wasn't the "prime" cause of Christian child sexual abuse. He may be right; the prime cause might be Christian teachings on sexuality in general.
Child abuse and paedophilia has been a particular problem for Christian institutions. Christian clergy have been under much scrutiny over the last two decades after a long series of immoral scandals involving child abuse. The cases have been shocking, wild, numerous, public, and they keep coming. It seems that the Church's teachings on sexuality lead to a development of sexual dysfunction amongst its priests. Christian Churches, the biggest example being the Catholic Church, have fought to conceal paedophile priests and move them from place to place when allegations arise. They have tried to deal with paedophilia by sending priests on sick leave or to rehabilitation centres ran by other Christians, but, it appears that Christian hierarchies are the last places you should trust when it comes to dealing with sexual abnormality. The scale of the scandals has led to various Churches declaring themselves bankrupt as they attempt to pay some of the court costs and settlement fees demanded of them. No other industry - even those closely associated with children such as boarding schools - has a rate of abuse anywhere near the rate found amongst Christian clergy. Counting is difficult, but, around 3% of all priests appear to be prone to recurring sexual indecency with children. Catholic Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi represented the Vatican before the United Nations Human Rights Council, and stated that Jews and Protestants have worse rates of child abuse, but still admitted that in the last 50 years "somewhere between 1.5% and 5% of the catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases". Police have called for routine checks of all priests, and a growing distrust of Christian religious professionals is finally beginning to become apparent amongst the general public.
My main recommendations are:
That Christian institutions cease running organisations that deal with children such as schools and orphanages. Secular managers should be appointment to oversee any institutions that are mostly staffed by Christians.
That Christian teachings on sexuality are viewed as a historical form of idealism, like communism or fascism, which has unfortunately proven itself to have failed on moral and pragmatic grounds.
Failure to seek medical help for children should be illegal and religious exemptions from medical laws should be removed.
Current edition: 2009 Sep 13
Last Modified: 2018 Oct 06
Originally published 1998
Parent page: Christian Moral Theory and Morality in Action: Biblical Morals and Social Disaster
All #tags used on this page - click for more:
The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper.
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source. A newspaper.
(1986) The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West. Subtitled: "Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West". Published by Elm Tree Books/Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London, UK. A hardback book.
Durant, Will (1885-1981)
"The Story of Civilization - Volume Six - The Reformation - A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin 1300-1564" (1957). Excerpt accessed on www.scribd.com, 2009 Sep 14.
Furedi, Frank. Professor of sociology at the University of Kent, UK.
(2002) Paranoid Parenting: Why ignoring the experts may be best for your child. Published by Chicago Review Press, Chicago, USA. This edition is "substantially different" from the 2001 UK version. A paperback book.
Gilmore, Peter. High Priest of the Church of Satan (as of 2001+).
(2007) The Satanic Scriptures. Published by Scapegoat Publishing, USA. Compendium of texts. Many essays are new editions of older texts by Gilmore. A hardback book.
(2011) Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment. Published by Prometheus Books, NY, USA.
Rubenstein, Richard E.
(1999) When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome. First Harvest edition, 2000. Published by Harcourt, Inc. Orlando, USA. A paperback book.
(1995) Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis. Published by BunnerMazel Inc., New York, USA. A.W. Richard Sipe is a retired Roman Catholic Priest. Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Chair of the Board of Directors of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institution, Minnesota, USA. (Biblio detail correct as of 1995). The Amazon link points to a modern book by Sipe on the same topic as the one referenced here. A hardback book.
Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
(2007) God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Published by Prometheus Books, NY, USA. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.