Sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church are skyrocketing, but there may be an end in sight

By: Stella Pagkas, Social Media Manager

You’ve seen the headlines a thousand times: “Catholic Priest Convicted of Sexual Assault,”  “Dozens Come Forward with Accusations Against Senior Clergy Member,” “Church Official Expelled After History of Sex Abuse Made Public.” It’s the scandal we’re becoming far too used to, but when does it end?

With well over one billion members, the Catholic Church is one of the world’s most powerful, widespread religious institutions. If you’re not Catholic, you know someone who is. And while the Church has been a subject of scandal for centuries, this controversy reached new heights in the 1980s, when Catholic priests all over the world began to be convicted of sexual assault. This explosion of allegations followed the 1985 conviction of Gilbert Gauthe, the Louisiana priest who gained national attention after admitting to abusing almost forty adolescent boys. In the years after this case, countless victims came forward with their own stories, and priests and senior clergy members from the U.S. to India faced incarceration and expulsion from the Church for abusing minors.

What made these allegations and convictions so disturbing was their scale. In the U.S., the accusations over the decades following the 1980s were in the thousands. In Australia, one commission found that 7% of Catholic priests were accused of sexually assaulting minors between the 1950s and 2015.

Now, more than thirty years after the first widely publicized sex abuse case in the Catholic Church, the allegations haven’t stopped. Just last year, one of Pope Francis’s closest advisors, Cardinal George Pell, was charged with multiple cases of sexual assault.

More locally, on October 18th of this year, Bishop Patrick McGrath of the Diocese of San Jose released a list that detailed the “names and status of all priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse of children occurring within the Diocese of San Jose.” Of the fifteen names on the list, the most recent case involved Don Flickinger, who was accused of sexually abusing children as recently as 2006 at St. Frances Cabrini Parish and Sacred Heart Saratoga Parish.

Additionally, on October 22nd the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which oversees dioceses in the Bay Area including the Diocese of San Jose, released its own list of “Those Accused of Sexual Misconduct in the Bay Area Dioceses” which includes two hundred and sixty-three names.

This problem spans decades and continents, and has even impacted our own community, but when and how does it end? As of right now, action is being taken at the local diocesan level and at the episcopal level. In our local diocese, Bishop McGrath released the controversial list of sexual predators “as part of the Diocese of San Jose’s commitment to transparency and accountability to assist in the process of reconciliation and healing.” At the United States episcopal level, in 2002 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” a comprehensive document detailing proceedings during sexual assault cases and action to be taken to prevent future sexual assault in the Church.

Despite all of this local progress, little is being done at the Vatican. After a grand jury report released in August of this year revealed that at least one thousand children were abused by hundreds of Catholic Priests in Pennsylvania over seven decades, Pope Francis broke Church tradition and wrote a direct letter to the Catholic community regarding the tragedy in Pennsylvania. However, while the Pope stated, “It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable,” he established no solid plan for dealing with sexual assault in the Church.

However, this could soon change. On Monday, November 12, 2018, the U.S. Bishops’ Conference planned to vote on reform measures regarding sexual assault as part of their annual fall general assembly. However, in an unprecedented measure, the Vatican instructed them not to vote on those measures, but rather to wait until next February when the Pope is planning to hold a summit at the Vatican for Bishops from around the world to address the Church’s sexual assault crisis.

This development sparked international controversy, as many disagreed with the Pope’s decision to prevent the U.S. Bishops’ Conference from addressing this pressing matter, but it may indicate that a definitive, international solution is coming. Come February, Church leaders from around the world may finally solve what some have called “The Catholic Church’s Biggest Crisis Since the Reformation.”

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