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Sexual abuse by Catholic clergy


How the Church initially reacted

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When the moral panic concerning widespread abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy surfaced in early 2002. many people asked why the Church hierarchy allowed the abuse to continue so long.

In 2009, retired Bishop John Selby Spong of the Episcopal Church, USA, suggested:

"I am quite certain that sexually abusive priests were well known to Catholic authorities for years. There was a history of bishops and archbishops moving offending clergy to another jurisdiction rather than confronting the issue. My guess is that both the abuse and the cover-up were quite systemic, far more prevalent than has yet been admitted or faced. Perhaps that is the clue to their allowing it to continue. If it was as widespread as we now believe, it must have involved people in high places, including bishops, archbishops and cardinals. A thorough investigation and a complete and honest admission might well have constituted so severe a threat to the life and integrity of that noble institution that they deemed their needs better served by dishonesty rather than honesty, by cover-up rather than admission. Of course, in the long run, the integrity of the Church itself is eroded and the exodus of members that begins as a trickle and ends with a flood."

"I do not think Roman Catholic officials have yet understood how many lay people were alienated from the Church by this behavior. Nor do I believe that thus far there has been anything like a full disclosure, so the issue will not end yet. 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." 1

The moral panic alleged widespread child and youth sexual abuse by priests and at least one bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. It also alleges a systematic policy of cover-ups that goes back decades. U.S. accusations of clergy abuse and cover-ups have concentrated on Cardinal Bernard Francis Law of Boston, MA. He and a group of archbishops from other countries have been forced to resign, including:

bullet Ireland (Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Desmond Connell), .
bullet Austria (Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Hermann Groer)
bullet Wales (Archbishop of Cardiff, Franciscan John Ward)
bullet Poland (Archbishop of Poznan, Juliusz Paetz) 2

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Topics covered in this section:

This section describes how the church's leaders, and laity reacted to the crisis:

bullet 2002-SPRING:
bullet Statements by priests, bishops and cardinals, on or about Palm Sunday,
bullet Statements by lay leaders
bullet 2002-JUNE:
bullet The draft version of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People
bullet The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter
bullet Reaction to the Charter
bullet 2002-JULY:
bullet Selection of a National Sexual Abuse Review Board
bullet Voice of the Faithful
bullet The 17th World Youth Day
bullet 2002-AUG to now:
bullet Vatican rejects U.S. Bishop's plan
bullet Modified plan approved
bullet Boston Archdiocese may declare bankruptcy
bullet Protest after Pope John Paul II funeral
bullet Other developments


  1. "Bishop Spong Q and A," 2009-MAY-21, at:
  2. Michael Higgins, "Laying down the Law: The Catholic Church will find inspired leadership in the aftermath of the Boston abuse scandals, says theologian MICHAEL HIGGINS," The Globe and Mail, 2002-DEC-18, Page A21.
  3. The Philadelphia Inquirer has a section on its website detailing its investigation of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ areas.  See: This requires a free registration. It includes links to a 424 page Grand Jury report, a catalogue of sexually abusive priests, letters from Cardinal Rigali, etc.
  4. The Los Angeles Times published an eight page section which deals with the suffering of abuse victims. See:

Site navigation:

 Home page > Religious Information > Sex abuse > here

or Home page > Religious violence > Sex abuse > here

or Home page > Christianity > Roman Catholicism > Sex abuse > here

Copyright 2001 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-MAR-25
Latest update: 2009-MAY-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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