Time to call for investigation of the Catholic Church?

Sep 18, 2012

Discussion by: Simon Tuffen
In its editorial comment today, The Independent on Sunday newspaper apologised for its part in the failure of the British press over the past 23 years to bring the authorities to account for the Hillsborough tragedy. I would respect this apparently honest and entirely voluntary apology were it not for the fact that the British press remains quite astonishingly uninterested in pressing the government and police into launching a full public enquiry into the role of the hierachy of the Catholic Church in protecting pedophile priests.

When it wants to be, the British press can be voracious in investigating and exposing corruption: just take a look at how many newspaper pages and TV news hours have been devoted to the scandal of a few celebrities having their phones tapped. The coverage given to that scandal, where none of the celebrities were physically hurt, far exceeds the coverage of physical abuse of thousands of children. Even the case reported a couple of weeks ago involving the Church of England warranted only a few paragraphs in the papers. How can this be?

It has been said by many people that if the scale of abuse carried out by priests had been carried out by teachers or health workers, or members of any other institution with access to children, the investigations by the press, police and government into those institutions would have been unprecedented in scale.

So, is this an appropriate time to call on the press to end its bewildering apathy towards the horrific crimes committed by officials of the Catholic Church?

31 comments on “Time to call for investigation of the Catholic Church?

  • Long past time.  The US has statutes that were created to prosecute organized crime but I think by any reasonable definition the way that the Catholic church has systematically covered up child abuse they should qualify as an organized criminal enterprise. This would have to start in the UK or Europe though, the climate in the US has politicians so terrified of the religious people they would never start it here. 

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  • The thing is that this is a societal blind spot.  How many people out there were abused as children and then blanked it out of their memory (normal trauma response)? I mean not just by the catholic church.  What about all the political/journalistic class in Britain who went to all-boys boarding schools? What about teenagers and grown women who suffered rape or other unpleasant sexual experiences and blanked it out? There was a British TV interview with school children, asking them to guess when pop star X lost his/her virginity, the guesses are all around the 12-13 mark. The grown-ups who’ve blanked or compartmentalised all these childhood experiences from their memories just don’t want to look at it — journalists included.  Not because of what they might find outside, but what they might find inside.

    But yes, I agree, it needs dealing with.  It is becoming more and more a public issue, more acceptable to admit to having been abused.  It has been discussed more publicly than ever over the last few years.  The Catholic Church’s attitudes has been shown for what they are. These developments all seem positive to me.

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  • Media all over seem not to want to touch this- strange when Britain is almost religion-free. Perhaps they are content to leave it for the ICC to deal with as per recent charges brought against the Vatican?

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  • 6
    capetownian says:

    I live in Cape Town – this problem exists here as well. There have been criminal prosecutions and I have personal anecdotal evidence from friends who attended Catholic schools of abuse by teachers and priests. I imagine it’s a world wide phenomenon – and now also evident in the Boy Scouts movement, if revelations in the press are to be believed…

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  • 7
    QuestioningKat says:

    RG please enlighten us by starting a post regarding laws that we should be aware of. Include topics like what churches are/not allowed to do/say plus the role of non-profit organizations. If religion is supposed to be separate, why does Congress start with a prayer? Plus anything else you might like to add. If your from the UK that works also. If any attorney from the US is here perhaps they could chime in.

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  •  Journalists as a class went to boarding school? That’s an extremely dubious assumption. Some journalists are aggresively proud of being uneducated slobs. If most of them went to such schools, why do they write such bad English?
    And another thing – the phrase “all-boys boarding schools” suggests you think there are no female journalists!

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  • 9
    SaganTheCat says:

    compared to the newspaper scandal this is very different. at the time of that breaking it was a feeding frenzy for publications who wanted to gloat over their competitors. i’m just not sure there’s the same will behind this.

    everyone hates reporters, and they hate them in their droves as they eagerly pay their wages but as we know there is still huge support for the vatican in this country, even those who condem the actual offenders still seem to buy the vatican’s stance that it’s not the pope’s fault, accepting his excuses (presumibly) that this is all down to “satan in the vatican” (there goes another irony meter), the secularisation of the west (which somehow effects catholic priest more than anyone) and of course the media themselves (as soft targets go, this one is downright soggy).

    in the televised debate for the last general election, all 3 candidates managed to deliver a butt-clenchingly embarrassing homage to the pope rather than directly give their views on the question of his state visit (in fairness to clegg, he was probbaly far more scared of his wife than the electorate).

    it seems to me that there is just not the stomach in this country, present company excepted, to start a fight that leads right to the pope, and i suspect any paper that dares is equally scared of the backlash from other papers supporting him.

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  • 10
    Aguazul says:

    It only takes a few people to set the culture for an entire organization.  No, I’m not claiming that all journalists (including the female ones) went to all-boys boarding schools! That would be silly.

    I’ve watched people react when faced with evidence of abuse, and their first reaction is “No, that is unthinkable”, and they decide it can’t be true, and there must be some other explanation and within 10 seconds the whole thing has been erased from their memory.  That is our self-protection at work.  It is too horrible to contemplate, so we bury it.  That is how the Catholic Church (and others) have got away with it for so long.

    And I don’t buy that the Catholic Church is only guilty of hiding the abuse.  If an organization creates a situation where celibacy is required, and then don’t have some kind of backup plan to deal with those men who are incapable of celibacy, then what follows is fully that organization’s responsibility.

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  • 11
    Red Dog says:

    Kat, I looked up the RICO (Racketerring Influenced and Corrupt Practrices act) predicates (that is the law I was referring to) and I think Ahole Guy, oops sorry I mean Rational Guy may actually have a point. Unfortunately the crimes covered under RICO are fairly specific and at least according to the Wikipedia article I read don’t cover pedophilia or covering up pedophilia.

    Then again, I only scanned the article, and I’m not a lawyer, I still suspect that there are some laws on the books such that you can go after an organization if you can prove a systemic long term pattern of enabling and covering up felonies, which the Catholic church has certainly done.

    Why people just can’t respond with reasonable arguments rather than tell people to “shut up” still puzzles me. Its just something about the Internet it attracts a lot of jerks and it even makes people who consider themselves Rational act like jerks.

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  • 12
    Mee Peestevone says:

    Blanking it out  for many is a coping mechanism in order to surive, but as we get much older it can  surface without notice. Some will be fortunate to have the skills to surive and others not.  For many, the pain can be more about being ignored or not beleived back then than the abuse itself, or society at the time not beleiving it or pretending not to beleive what was going on. I recall telling my parents the abuse I witnessed in school, but tired to convince me I was exhaggerating. Very frustrating,

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  • 13
    Red Dog says:

    But the whole issue of repressed memories is complex. In general humans are much less reliable than we think we are at remembering events as they actually happen.  This is true for memories in general, childhood memories even more so, and traumatic memories even more.

    There have been documented cases where people were, without their knowledge, manipulated to remember things that never happened by therapists who assumed abuse without actual evidence.

    Please understand I’m not saying all remembered abuse is erroneous, not at all, just that its a very complex issue and recall of repressed memories is unfortunately very unreliable.

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  • 16
    Aguazul says:

    Please understand I’m not saying all remembered abuse is erroneous, not at all, just that its a very complex issue and recall of repressed memories is unfortunately very unreliable.

    Someone who has suffered abuse and buried it may not be aware of it directly, but I would say that there will be symptoms all through his/her life. So to identify the problem it is not necessary to rely entirely on recall of repressed memories, which I agree can be problematic if not handled with care (e.g. a therapist should never ask leading questions). IMHO, what is more important than recall is resolution. This brings us back to undoing religious conditioning. Perhaps recalling the religious teachings which created childhood fears will help, but what you are really looking for is release from the patterns that they created.

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  • 17
    JonathanWest says:

    I have been largely responsible for the publicity surrounding the abuse scandal at Ealing Abbey and St Benedict’s School in London.  Last year, I contacted the Papal Nuncio to Britain and requested an Apostolic Visitation.

    Within the Catholic Church, an Apostolic Visitation is a really big deal, there hasn’t been one in Britain in living memory. I was astonished when they actually agreed to it.

    But I realised that the only benefit that would come from it is the publicity that surrounded the fact that the visitation had been set up. And so it came to pass.

    The people appointed were Richard Yeo, Abbot President of the English Benedictines and the former Abbot of Downside, where there has been another abuse scandal involving multiple monks which he covered up for many years, and John Arnold, auxiliary bishop on the diocese of London, reporting to Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who has been determinedly inactive whenever I have tried to raise the issue with him.

    Worse was to come. I learned that the visitation was only of the monastery, not the attached school (where most of the abuse had occurred) and that individual cases would not be examined, but only their overall procedures. Oh, and the report would not be published.

    In other words, the visitation was carefully designed to find out as little as possible, and to ensure that even that little never became public.

    The problem of child abuse in institutions could largely be solved with a single measure. In Britain at present, it is not a crime to fail to report child abuse. The headmaster of a school can know that one of his teachers has raped one of his pupils, and he has no statutory obligation to report anything to anybody.

    This needs to change. There needs to be a legal obligation for the management in schools and other institutions which care for children to report allegations of abuse to the authorities. There need to be criminal penalties for failure to do so, including a substantial term of imprisonment where failure to report resulted in an abuser continuing to abuse after it was first known about.

    This won’t prevent all child sex abuse, we have to remember that a substantial proportion occurs outside institutions, even within families, and this measure won’t have much effect on that. But the most dangerous paedophiles are the ones clever enough to work their way into positions of trust supervising children, and so have a large number of victims available to them. This measure would make it very dangerous for them to operate. In this respect, paedophiles are ordinary criminals, they don’t want to get caught. This measure would deter the cleverer ones, and more quickly catch the stupid ones.

    More about Ealing Abbey on my blog

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  • 18
    Ignorant Amos says:

    Ironically, it is an offence not to report the crime of money laundering,  fraud or terrorist activity…but abusing children, no obligation regard other than a moral one.

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  • 19
    valhalla says:

    In a slightly different but extremely similar direction, not wishing to derail the thread…


    Seems the Roman Catholic Church is imploding a little more each day, it could not happen to a finer organization!
    Question is…Where next will the reality of kiddy fiddling crows be exposed to the world?

    South America?, Africa?, Russia even?

    That is the evil of the RCC they have their sticky little claws & putrescent beaks into every dealing in every country, and they seem to import their deviant nature as a feature wherever the sea stops.

    Before they just threatened and bullied the affected into  silence, now it seems they are powerless to hide their true nature…clock is ticking and sweeping down to zero on their end days, after 2000 years not a second to soon.

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  • 20
    capetownian says:

    While watching BBC News on our local TV Network (DSTV) I  happened to see a headline news item scroll across the bottom of the picture which said: ” The Roman Catholic Church in the state of Victoria, Australia admits the sexual abuse of over 600 children by priests since the 1930’s”
    Perhaps somebody from that corner of the world can shed more light on the story…..

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  • Child rape is not ever a result of celibacy.  Assaulting children does not follow on from celibacy.  It is highly likely that the rapists of children seek out positions in places like churches where they will have power over children and access to them.   The choice many priests have made to rape children has nothing to do with enforced celibacy.  No amount of enforced celibacy would ever turn a person who is not one into a sexual deviant who attacks children.

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  • 22
    valhalla says:

    Child rape is not ever a result of celibacy.

    Any citations for that claim?

    Celibacy might indeed not be the main reason, but it is also very doubtful that it in any way  actually eradicates the urge of sexually dysfunctional cowardly men to abuse children that are easy prey for an authority figure that society, and presumably the child’s immediate family, are supposed to trust!

    It is highly likely that the rapists of children seek out positions in
    places like churches where they will have power over children and access
    to them.

    It is even a higher likelihood that someone here is trying to excuse and exonerate the RCC doctrine with relation to celibacy.
    A practice that the RCC introduced to reduce claims from the surviving spouse and allow worldly priestly chattels to pass directly to the church on his demise.

    It is a typically selfish and greedy tactic that only the Catholic church could dream up to enrich itself.
    And trying to pretend it is somehow a reflection of the priests commitment to the supernatural is so disingenuous but again very typical of a morally bankrupt and philosophically stagnant cult based organization.

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  • 23
    Simon Tuffen says:

    Wow. I thought it was a crime to fail to report knowledge of any serious criminal activity. Is child abuse unique in this regard?

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  • 24
    Aguazul says:

    No amount of enforced celibacy would ever turn a person who is not one into a sexual deviant who attacks children.

    There must be some path through which these abusers are created, reasons why they turn out this way. Or do you think they are born like that? And why do so many of them turn up in the Catholic Church? Is the Catholic Church merely attracting them, or is it also doing something that as a side-effect leads the susceptible to become abusers?

    What puzzles me more is why the Church protects them, and accepts them as their own. Do they accept that this goes on as the cost of their own policies? Why do they feel so much more compassion for the offending priest than for the victims?

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  • 25
    valhalla says:

    I realize your post was directed at the excellent post by Jonathon West, he has my utmost respect for the work he does, but I can only offer in regards to …


    Wow. I thought it was a crime to fail to report knowledge of any serious
    criminal activity. Is child abuse unique in this regard?

    It certainly would appear that the RCC seem to rely on the ambiguous nature of the further offence not to report  ‘knowledge of any serious
    criminal activity’ to explain their reluctance to hand files and culprits over to the secular law authorities.

    They weaselled every which way on this point, from claiming that the bulk of the abuse was committed when paedophilia was not against the law…

    Really, they never specified when that halcyon period of fiddle free bonus perk of the job actually was and what is more when pressed on it they retreat to the back of the argument claiming that it was not regarded as a crime in those days anyway, both the actually abuse and the fact it was not reported to secular authority, seriously twisted logic and not of this world!

    Anyway this culminates to insisting that they did not realise that they had a duty to report it.
    Variations on that last theme even suggest that they ‘assumed’ that those in higher authority’ were responsible for dealing with the problem and that the decision to involve the local law officers was theirs to consider.

    One of their most cynical moves was by Archbishop Tomasi that tried this little wheeze…

    The majority of Catholic clergy who had committed acts of sexual abuse
    against under 18 year olds should not be viewed as paedophiles, but as
    homosexuals who are attracted to sex with adolescent males. The
    statement said that rather than paedophilia, “it would be more correct
    to speak of ephebophilia being a homosexual attraction to adolescent males

    Which pretty much sounds like if  they go down for being kiddie fiddlers they were determined to drag down homosexuality and any random homosexual with them to hell!
    They were actually prepared to to inflict as much collateral damage as possible on their favourite whipping boys, that shows how these  nasty vicious punks actually think!

    Their very last line of frankly ludicrous defence is that the matter of child abuse was also a matter for the church to deal with internally, in fact that was the last literary attempt by Benedict to bury this scandal and he made it extremely plain what exactly was the policy of the RCC under his stewardship on this subject specifically…

    ‘NO POLICE’…

    “Seems in relation to the Irish scandals he appeared to have forgotten this letter when he blamed the Irish
    Catholic Church for its abuse issues, and it certainly slipped his mind
    when he blamed church sex abuse scandals on increasing secularism within
    society” (Rational Wikki)

    They dig themselves deeper in the tar pit every single time one of them opens their mouth to pontificate on this deviant abomination of behaviour.

    But a terminally injured animal is usually at its most dangerous and toxic when sliding down the sides of the oily pit, that are dying slowly, but they will inflict as much grief as possible on to humanity in the shortish time they have left, nothing so sure!


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  • 26
    JonathanWest says:

     Generally speaking in Britain it is not a crime to fail to report a crime. The exceptions to that rule are fairly narrowly drawn, and do not include child sex abuse.

    Except in Northern Ireland. As a result of legislation introduced during the Troubles to try and detach the IRA from the Catholic community, it is a crime not to report an arrestable offence. Most child sex abuse comes above that threshhold

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  • 27
    JonathanWest says:

     I think to say that child rape is not ever a result of celibacy is offering a hostage to fortune.

    However I wouldn’t say that celibacy is a particularly large issue here. After all, The Church of England (with a largely married clergy) has its own issues with child sex abuse, most recently as laid out in the report of the archepiscopal visitation into the diocese of Chichester where a number of clergy are awaiting trial.

    There are married child abusers who have sex with their own or other children. The idea that the Catholic clergy starved of sex and therefore molest children is not supported by data, and to chase after the celibacy issue is to address something which is probably not a significant cause.

    The key point is that child abusers are attracted to children. And they cannot be outwardly distinguished from those honest priests, teachers, youth group leaders and so on who they deliberately try to resemble.

    The only way you can tell an abuser if from the abuses he commits. that is why reporting of allegations and suspicions is so important, that is the only point at which you can catch them for the first time. Once they have abused, they can go on List 99, have a flag on their CRB checks, or go on the sex offenders register, so they can’t again gain a position of trust supervising children. But they still have to be caught the first time, and CRB checks etc are no use against somebody not already known to the system.

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  • 28
    Sliver69 says:

    When it wants to be, the British press can be voracious in investigating and exposing corruption: just take a look at how many newspaper pages and TV news hours have been devoted to the scandal of a few celebrities having their phones tapped. The coverage given to that scandal, where none of the celebrities were physically hurt, far exceeds the coverage of physical abuse of thousands of children

    It wasn’t just celebrities who had their privacy breached. Murdered school girl Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked too, which in turn gave her parents false hope that she might be alive. This was a cuel and pernicous act and showed an epic lack of ethics and empathy for Milly Dowler’s parents, who WERE deeply upset and hurt when they subsequently found out the truth.

    I just wanted to correct you on that point. Otherwise, I agree with your point about the press cherry picking their crusades for the moral good.

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  • 29
    Simon Tuffen says:

    Thanks for pointing out the Milly Dowler case. I would agree that is a lot more serious and hurtful to her family than celebrities having their phones tapped. In any case, I wasn’t making light of the fact that anyone had their phones tapped, that’s a serious issue in its own right, just that it is a lot less serious (even including Milly Dowler’s phone tapping case) than the sexual abuse of many many children.

    Of course, we now have an even more apt example of media cherry picking, with the Jimmy Saville child abuse case. Already far more press and TV coverage, and questions from parliament, have been put to that case of abuse by a single individual against maybe a few dozen victims, than all the alleged abuse of thousands, and subsequent cover up, by officials of the Catholic Church. Today, the BBC is tearing itself apart over how they dealt with the matter, and how they made a tribute programme about Jimmy Saville, and the Director General of the BBC is being questionned in parliament. Yet both the BBC and parliament fauned over the Pope and his UK visit 2 years ago, treating him with the utmost reverence, and they are still not asking any questions about that! It is plain utter madness!!!

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  • 30
    mulligan says:

    I agree with the general direction of this thread. At the risk of being seen as tangential & as raising summat that would be more at home in another thread, I wish to add summat.

    The RCC supports a worse crime than paedophilia. It encourages large families. These are one cause of overpopulation. Overpopulation is one of the many causes of Global Warming. GW can cause floods and hurricanes. These can kill. So the RCC helps to kill.

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  • 31
    gwiloh says:

    Inaction is always more comforting than the alternative, a very painful course of action that fundamentally undermines one of the cornerstones of the religion – celibacy in priests. Moreover, it would set a precedent for a state to act against an organised religion and would constitute electoral suicide. It would also more than likely result in violent protests, but that is a poor excuse for not acting.

    I recall talking to an American about religion. He admitted that many of his friends would be very uncomfortable with such a discussion. Clearly, open criticism of religion would go down like a lead balloon, but a systematic and sustained criticism of the catholic church over this matter may finally force them to act. Perhaps we should routinely refer to the Pope as the chief paedophile, not that I have any evidence for his participation in such acts, but as far as I am aware he has never publicly denounced the guilty priests; and this would so incense Catholics that it might finally shock them out of their complacency!

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