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Sexual abuse by clergy

Sexual and physical child abuse
by Roman Catholic clergy in Europe

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Abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland
and Belgium are described in separate essays.

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News of high levels of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy became public knowledge in Europe on a country-by-country basis, reaching high levels during 2009 & 2010. As the news of each tragedy unfolded, other rape victims were individually emboldened to go public with their stories -- both in the same country and elsewhere in Europe. And so, the revelations spread, aided by an effective media campaign of criticism of the Catholic Church.

At first, Pope Benedict XVI belittled the stories by the church's victims. Five years into his papacy, during Palm Sunday Mass in 2010, he said that he would not be intimidated by the crisis that was evolving across Europe and threatening to undermine his authority and that of the rest of the magesterium. 1 He said that faith in God led:

"... "towards the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion". 2

In an apparent reference to widespread criticisms of his handling of sexually abusive priests while he was Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, and later when he was Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, from 1981 to 2005, he also said that humans can sometimes:

"... fall to the lowest, vulgar levels ... [and] sink into the swamp of sin and dishonesty." 2

The reference to "sin" probably refers to priests' sexual abuse of minors. It is anyone's guess whether his reference to "dishonesty" refers to the common response by the church to accusations of sexual abuse. They typically attempted to preserve the reputation of the Church by organizing cover-ups and swearing the victims to silence.

Also, early in 2010, the pope was attacked when information surfaced that he was personally involvement in two cases of abuse:

  • In 1980, Father Peter Hullermann, a German priest in therapy for child sexual abuse, was allowed to return to work with children in the Diocese of Munich while the pope was its archbishop. In 1986, Hullermann was convicted of abusing minors.

  • While the pope was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his deputy stopped a church trial against Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest accused of abusing up to 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin.

Public demonstrations and calls for the pope to resign after only half a decade in office. Spokesperson for Pope Benedict XVI, Father Federico Lombardi, maintained that Pope Benedict XVI's authority had not been weakened by the allegations against himself and other leaders in the Catholic Church.

Fr. Lombardi predicted:

"The recent media attacks have without doubt caused damage. But the authority of the Pope and the commitment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith against sex abuse of minors will come out of this not weakened but strengthened.”

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, defended the Pope during a BBC TV interview. He said:

"The Pope will not resign. Frankly there is no strong reason for him to do so. In fact, it is the other way around. He is the one above all else in Rome that has tackled this thing head on."

2010-SEP: UK: Pope Benedict XVI visits:

Associated Press reported on 2010-SEP-17:

"The trip has been overshadowed by disgust over the Catholic Church's clerical abuse scandal and opposition from secularists and those opposed to the church's stance against homosexuality and its ban on using condoms to fight the spread of AIDS. ...

The pope was given a boisterous welcome by thousands of cheering Catholic schoolchildren at a suburban London college, where he urged young people to ignore the shallow temptations of today's 'celebrity culture.'

Benedict also told their teachers to make sure to provide them with a trusting, safe environment — the second time in as many days that he has referred to the church sex abuse scandal. On Thursday [SEP-16], the pope acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church had failed to act quickly or decisively enough to remove pedophile priests from ministry.

'Our responsibility toward those entrusted to us for their Christian formation demands nothing less,' Benedict said. 'Indeed, the life of faith can only be effectively nurtured when the prevailing atmosphere is one of respectful and affectionate trust.'

Polls in Britain indicate widespread dissatisfaction with the way Benedict has handled the sex abuse scandal, with Catholics nearly as critical of him as the rest of the population. Benedict's four-day visit to the UK has been clouded by the abuse scandal, as well as by opposition to many of his policies and widespread indifference to his presence in this deeply secular country." 3

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2012-MAR: The Netherlands: Allegations of Church castration of young males during the 1950s:

Earlier, the Deetman Commission was set up by the Catholic Conference of Bishops and the Catholic Dutch Religious Conference. It was named after Wim Deetman, the commission head. During 2011, the Commission determined that tens of thousands of children had been abused by Catholic clergy in the Netherlands between 1945 and 1981 in Catholic orphanages, boarding schools and seminaries. The Commission condemned what they described as a cover-up and culture of silence within the Catholic Church. They heard testimony alleging castrations of youth under the care of the Church, but did not include the topic in their final report because of insufficient supporting evidence.

During the weekend of MAR-17, the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad reported that boys from a Catholic boarding school had been castrated back in the 1950's. They reported that Henk Hethuis, a young male, had been castrated on the instructions of Catholic priests in 1956 after he informed police that he was being sexually abused by priests. The newspaper reported that as many as 10 other boys had also been castrated and told it would "cure" their homosexuality.

It is important to realize that during the 1950's homosexuality was still being regarded as a mental illness by all major psychiatric and psychological associations. Many types of abusive and ineffective medical interventions including castration, amputation of the breasts of lesbians, performing lobotomies on the brains of lesbians and gays, electric shock treatments, etc. were being performed in order to convert the victims to homosexuality. None worked. It was only the 1950's that fundamental research by Evelyn Hooker showed that lesbians and gays are not mentally ill or disordered. It was only some two decades later that the American Psychiatric Association accepted her findings and removed homosexuality from their list of mental illnesses. Other professional organizations in the mental health area followed suit. However, over 50 years after Hooker's research the Roman Catholic Church still regards homosexuality as a disordered state and that certain types of discrimination aginst lesbians and gays are moral.

On MAR-20, Labor member of parliament Khadija Arib discussed the alleged castrations and said in Parliament that:

"All these horrible reports strengthen me to call for a parliamentary investigation and perhaps even an inquiry."

A spokesperson for the Dutch Catholic Church said that the Church was willing to cooperate with an investigation to determine whether the media reports were true. 4

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1950 to 2018: In Switzerland, at least 250 instances of sexual harassment have been reported in the Church :

There have been 143 cases reported that involve children and adolescents, while 88 concern abuse of adults. Slightly more females were victimized than males. The Church has said that all of the recent cases that allegedly ocurred within the statute of limitations involved children. 5

The Swiss Bishop's Conference is holding a meeting starting on SEP-02 to discuss introducing sex-ed courses for church representatives. They hope that this will reduce the level of sexual abuse within the Church. Giorgio Prestele, who heads a group of experts on sexual abuse commissioned by the Bishops,

"I can also imagine that priests and lay theologians would have to undergo an assessment before being employed -– as prospective priests before ordination -– to evaluate how they deal with the subject of their own sexuality."

The group of experts is recommending that Church officials be required to automatically inform the police or courts of all accusations of abuse. 6

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Pope: I 'will not be intimidated' by sex abuse accusations," The Times, 2010-MAR-29, at:
  2. Tom Kington, "Pope dismisses 'petty gossip' of sexual abuse allegations," The Guardian, 2010-MAR-28, at:
  3. Nichole Winfield, "UK Police: 5 arrested in alleged threat to pope," Yahoo! News, at:
  4. "Dutch MPs call for inquiry into Catholic castration cases for gays in 1950s," Reuters, 2012-MAR-20, at:
  5. "Catholic Church in Switzerland still dealing with abuse claims," Swiss Broadcasting Corp., 2018-JAN-07, at:
  6. Rafiq A. Tschannen, "Setting boundaries: Swiss priests will be sent to sex-ed class, The Muslim Times, 2018-SEP-03 at:

Site navigation:

 Home page > Religious Info. > Basic info > Clergy abuse > here

or Home page > Religious conflict > Specific conflicts > Clergy abuse > here

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

Copyright 2010 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2010-SEP-10
Latest update: 2012-MAR-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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