by Alix Barré
Ever wondered why child abuse occurs in the Catholic Church? Well Polish Archbishop Jozef Michalik suggested this October that it might be because children from divorced parents “seek love”. When it comes to rape and abuse, it is not uncommon to blame the victim. Haven’t we all heard the sentence “she was asking for it”? It seems that now this Archbishop made an attempt to apply this stereotyped standard to children victims of sexual abuse. His view caused an outrage within the church and he later apologised. His spokesperson qualified his comments as simply a “slip of the tong”.
In his apology, Michalick said: “The context of my comment was as follows: a child is always innocent. But it can be hurt not only by priests but also by its own environment,” Basically, children from a broken family are more vulnerable to abuse because they “seek for love”, as he said. The more logical reason for child abuse within the church would of course be the celibacy vow priests take. Celibacy goes against the core of human nature and instinct and perhaps priests should be more prepared for the challenges that come with it to avoid such scandals. In any case, to try in anyway to imply that the child is responsible, is ridiculous.
Child abuse within the Catholic Church is far from being a secret nowadays, though it still remains too big of a taboo. In 2006 the BBC and Colm O’Gorman, who was raped by a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Ferns, in Ireland, made a documentary called “Sex Crimes and the Vatican”. The documentary focused on a secret document used by the Vatican called “Crimen Sollicitationis” to silence any accusation of sexual abuse within the church. It is a secret oath they take and anyone that breaks it, is excommunicated, which means banished from the church. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is said to have enforced this for 20 years before he became Pope Benedict XVI, though he denies it.
To respond to the scandals of child abuse, the American Catholic Church set up the National Review Board over ten years ago, in 2002. The first job of the board was to study the scale of child abuse in the country. Interestingly enough, they found that the percentage of child abuse does not differ from country to country, but remains more or less the same everywhere. In the United States, 4,500 priests have been accused of sexually abusing a child between 1950 and 2002. The chairman of the board, Frank Keating, resigned after only one year. He compared the secrecy of the church to the secrecy of the mafia, and when he resigned he said: “To resist Grand Jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics…That is the model of a criminal organization, not my church” The BBC documentary mentioned that three years after ongoing investigations into the matter, there seemed to be little improvement.
A similar initiative was taken in Ireland in 2002, the “Commission into Child Abuse”. Their study found that church leaders were aware of the abuses, but did nothing. One aspect the BBC documentary noted was that there was no policy to help the victims. What would commonly be done in the case of abuse would simply be to move the priest to another location. This is what happened in the case of Catholic priest Oliver O’Grady, a child abuser the church hid from the authorities. He was convicted in 1993 for the abuse of two minors between 1978 – 1991 and possibly abused dozens of children. His attorney claimed that the church knew as early as 1976 and 1984. Ever since he has been chosen as the new Pope, Pope Francis has been striving towards creating a new image for the Church, a more positive one. Soon after his election he announced he would make sure those responsible for child abuse would be punished and that he “would root out child abuse”.
It is true for any kind of abuse that it is difficult to put numbers on the prevalence, adding to that the secrecy of the Church, I think it is very difficult to truly know what is going on. It is also true that for any kind of abuse the victim is often blamed. In response to the rape culture in India, Bollywood actresses made a video sarcastically bringing up the issue of blaming the victim. A video called “it’s your fault”. Let’s make sure no ironic video ever has to be made about children victim of abuse by priests, because be serious people, it’s not their fault.
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