More and more adult survivors of childhood rape are coming out against their abusers and rapists, the very religious leaders of the Catholic Church they trusted. After four decades of inaction, state governments are finally investigating these crimes.
On Aug. 14, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office released an 884-page report stemming from a two-year investigation from a 23-member grand jury. The report, based on investigations and victims’ testimony, presents evidence that over 300 priests and other clergy had molested, abused and raped more than 1,000 children in towns across Pennsylvania. The abusers had ties all the way up to the Vatican. The report also details a systematic cover-up of sexual predation by church officials. It says that there are “likely to be thousands more” victims.
Since this testimony has been released, the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused By Priests and the Pennsylvania state attorney general’s office have reported that their clergy abuse hotlines have been bombarded with phone calls with hundreds more stories of abuse.
This is the most thorough state investigation to date of rape and abuse of children by Catholic clergy to date. However, even though over 300 priests were implicated in the Pennsylvania attorney general office’s report, only two were charged due to statutes of limitation. The report strongly recommends that the statute of limitations be extended in civil and criminal cases, and that a window be opened that would permit older victims to file civil lawsuits against perpetrators and the Church. The Church has lobbied against both these measures.
Sexual predation of boys and girls, seminarians and nuns by Catholic priests, and the extensive complicity with, and cover-up of these crimes by Church higher-ups, has been exposed since the 1980s. No significant action has been taken to date to bring perpetrators to justice or end these criminal and hypocritical practices. Upon discovery, the Church has transferred the criminals to other parishes where they continued their crimes. Superiors also discredit victims who spoke out. By sweeping the matter of child rape under the rug, the Church created a climate favorable to serial sexual predators that continues to this day.
‘It’s okay because I’m a priest’
Story after heart-wrenching story emerged from the Pennsylvania grand jury testimony. One priest would invite children to help count money from collections in the rectory. Another would give his victims sedatives before molesting them, saying “it was okay, because he was a priest.” Another would tell his victims before forced oral sex, that “Mary had to lick Jesus clean after he was born.” Another would rinse a boy’s mouth out with holy water after his crimes. One priest confessed to telling his child victims he was performing a cancer check. Another abused five sisters from a family of nine children. The youngest victim reported was only 18 months old.
Priests shared child pornography among themselves, according to the report, and some priests even gave their most vulnerable victims gold crosses so other priests could recognize that they were easy prey and abuse them further. One priest got an abortion for a child he had impregnated.
A ‘systemic issue’
Mary McHale, a child survivor of abuse, told CBS This Morning, “My abuser, when he took his religious collar off, told me that he could do whatever he wanted to do, and I believed him.”
James Faluszczak, another abuse survivor who is himself a Catholic priest, said he “witnessed abuse first hand,” and that “it appeared to be a part of the church DNA; it was an epidemic,” He continued, “I felt called to be a priest, and … as I made my way through ministry, it appeared clear to me that this was a systemic issue.”
“He would always have his hands on me,” said another survivor. “When you have the priest touching you every day, it’s hard to forget,” recounted another.
Child rape victim Joey Deavon was 15 years old when his abuser damaged his spine in repeated rapes. Joey was addicted to pain killers, and died at age 45 in 2015 of an overdose. His mother, Judy Deavon, has spoken out against her son’s rapist.
Pennsylvania is only one of 50 U.S. states. “Reports released by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops documented the abuse committed by 4,392 priests against thousands of children over the last half century. One of every ten priests ordained in 1970 was charged as a pedophile by 2002, and those were only the ones reported,” according to Michael Parenti, writing in the May/April 2016 issue of The Truth Seeker magazine.
Many offending priests, bishops and deacons end up getting shuffled quietly to other dioceses, where they then have unfettered access to dozens more unknowing and trusting children.
Clergy sex abuse and child rape is a nationwide, and in fact, a worldwide phenomena. In recent decades, victims have come forth in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Ireland, Italy, Nigeria, and Poland.
Church, courts, politicians, and police look the other way
Adult victims of childhood rape often live lives of silence, grief, distress, depression, shame, guilt, family dysfunction, divorce, and even suicide. Many have not been afforded remedies in the court system, nor with local police departments. In fact, they are up against a huge Catholic Church system with ties to the political elite, real estate, and big business.
The Catholic Church is not only a religious organization, it is also a big business, with billions of dollars in assets. It has hired 39 lobbying groups to pressure 50 state legislators to keep clergymen careers and secrets intact. Religious groups in general spend $400 million dollars annually to lobby lawmakers on more than 300 issues.
Apologies are not enough
Last month on a trip to Ireland, Pope John Francis found himself faced with a Irish population angered by the Pennsylvania revelations and reeling from the horrors of Catholic Church abuses there. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that in Ireland the church was guilty of “torture and other cruel or degrading treatment” and “the sale of children, trafficking and abduction.”
The Pope made no announcement of actions to be taken against the perpetrators of child rape, or explained how children would be protected from predators or how victims would be compensated. Instead, he apologized to the victims of sexual abuse on behalf of the clergy, and made a plea to forgive sinners.
Right-wing whipping up homophobia
The only opposition to predatory pedophilia from within the Church given attention in the mainstream media comes from the ultra-right, with its own agenda to push. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States, wrote an 11-page letter claiming that Pope John Francis has known about the acts of a disgraced abuser, Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and reinstated him to a high position.
Viganò’s letter, however, says little about the protection and safety of children.
Catholics and non-Catholics alike reject this notion, and condemn predatory pedophilia and priest rape of boys and girls, seminarians and nuns as an abuse of power, much like the perpetrators exposed by the #MeToo movement, or like the serial rapists found in the U.S. military, on some college campuses, and in other areas of capitalist society.
Pope John Francis is no liberal
Meanwhile, the corporate media portrays Pope John Francis as a liberal, and even an advocate of gay rights and of Liberation Theology. While he has distinguished himself from other popes by side-stepping social issues, the best thing he has said about LGBTQ people is that they are “worthy of being loved.” He has spoken out against gay men entering the seminary.
Before he became Pope John Francis, Jorge Maria Bergoglio supported the military dictatorship in Argentine, which, aided by U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, killed thousands of progressive people and social activists. He was complicit, in liaison with the military junta of General Jorge Videla, in the arrest, imprisonment, torture and disappearance of progressive Catholic priests and laymen who were opposed to Argentina’s military rule. This included the murder of two Liberation Theology priests. (El Mundo, 8 November 2010)
Church has ‘secret files’ of abusers
Canon (Church) law states in writing, “Sexual abuse cases, when looked into, should be kept secret.” Canon law also says church officials had to keep records of complaints and “personnel” issues, according to Mitchell Garabedian, a 30-year legal advocate for child rape victims from Boston. “In Canon law, they are really called the Secret Files,” he said.
Garabedian successfully went after Father John J. Geoghan, in Dorchester, Mass., by establishing “enough evidence to ask the judge to allow us to obtain the Secret Files, which held the most incriminating evidence. There were more than 10,000 documents on Geoghan alone, he said.”
When the parents of victims call the police, the police often leave the matter to church officials. Whistle-blower priests, such as Father Boniface Ramsey, are often cast off as troublemakers. Ramsey had attempted to bring attention to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse of seminarians while McCarrick was slated to take over the Archidiocese of Washington, D.C. McCarrick has since resigned.
Catholics say, ‘No More Secrets!’
“I felt like it’s the first time someone finally listened,” said one victim after the Pennsylvania grand jury finding. “I want the right to stand in court and face my abuser, to ask him why he did this to me. I predict his answer would be, ‘Because I could.’”
There are no crimes more abominable than sex crimes against children. A rapist is still a rapist, no matter what religious garb they may be donning. The rights of children must be upheld; rapists must be prosecuted as criminals. Rapists must not be allowed to hide behind a veil of secrecy, or confidentiality, benefit from coverups by the church hierarchy, and continue to lead congregations with vulnerable children within arms’ reach. They cannot continue to access their high salaries and pensions, be promoted, and ultimately, live comfortably in retirement, free of public scrutiny.
Forced resignations or forced early retirements are not enough. They must be identified, isolated, and removed immediately from access to the public and contact with children, stripped of their authority, and punished for their crimes. Those in the Church hierarchy who knowingly cover up clergy men’s sexual crimes against children must also be prosecuted for allowing these sex crimes to continue.
Like the Hollywood and media moguls who have committed sexual crimes against women, rapists cannot be “forgiven,” as Pope John Francis suggested. These institutions of secrecy must be exposed for what they are: a patriarchal, sexist, predatory class of influential elites who used their money, power, authority, and connections to hide their crimes.
Like the #MeToo movement, the demands of childhood rape survivors must be met, and justice must be served.