The Roman Catholic Church has failed to protect its church members from falling victim to sodomy to a larger extent. It is evident that the Church leadership has played a pivotal role in enabling the clergy and religious perpetrators to inflict such abuse on members of its congregation by way of concealed re-assignment, coverup and by sheltering the accused from accountability in the secular community. Although legal action may have been taken in some cases this was done illicitly, subjugating victims into passive submission.
Allegations of sexual abuse within the church date back to the 1950s, however, it was in the early 2000s that the Church sexual abuse sparked as a major global issue. The epidemic drew major attention through the Boston Globe newspaper’s exposure of not only the widespread clerical abuse but also the intent to which the church went to cover up these crimes by suppressing investigations. ()
The catholic church adopted a policy of secrecy making the handling of clergy sex abuse an internal matter. The church leaderships obsessional devotion to ecclesiastical traditions and its inclination to protect its own stature at the expense of the laity allowed for the continual concealment of the severity of abuse within the church. Research on the rampant abuse case uncovered the systematic approach the church took in its deception of their crimes.
In early November 200l that Michael Rezendes of Boston Globe first uncovered the explosive documents containing evidence of a group of pending civil cases against ex-Catholic priest John Geoghan who had been accused of sexual abuse by over 100 people. Geoghan had reportedly taken “sick leave” before he reemerged at another parish in which he allegedly molested a further 7 boys. Martin Baron, the editor of the Boston Globe at the time had instructed the spotlight team to look into the case further and uncover whether Geoghan’s case could be seen as part of a pattern of sexual abuse allegations against priests and furthermore whether or not the church’s leadership had taken any action against the perpetrators or helped in concealing their criminal misconduct.
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It was later discovered by the Spotlight team that the Catholic church had been paying off numerous victims in order to prevent them from filing lawsuits against priests who had been involved in sexual misconduct. Several cases similar to Geoghans surfaced, nevertheless, the Catholic church continued to treat cases as isolated instances failing to admit to the predatory pattern that had emerged within the parish.
With the Spotlight team’s knowledge of Geoghan taking “sick leave” between moving amongst parishes, the team began their meticulous scrutinization of 17 years’ worth of public directories which were published by the respective churches, giving all the priests in the archdioceses’ status and location giving specific acknowledgement of ‘on the shelf’ designations. The cross-examination of this information proved nothing concrete however it proved to play a vital role in the investigation as the spotlight team found many of the priests, some which had come up previously in the investigation, to be placed on ‘on the shelf’ designations under a slew of labels such as ‘sick leave’, ‘unassigned’, ‘absent on leave’, ‘emergency response’ or ‘transferred to foreign missions’, any status they could give misconducted priests in order to conceal the truth of what was really going on. By the time the reporter’s examination of the directories was completed they had identified more than 100 priests with suspicious “on-the-shelf” designations. In moving the priests around the church was simply moving the issue around opening up opportunity for more victims to be taken advantage of and not allowing for the decent accountability needed to be taken by the perpetrators.
An additional way in which the spotlight team came to identify purported priestly perpetrators was by accumulating a list of lawyers who had been involved in cases regarding sexual abuse by priests, where the church had tried to take some form of action against the issue, however these cases had transpired in a clandestine manner. These lawyers led to pedophiliac cases which led to more lawyers leading to more cases. In many instances, the team found there to be large lacunae in the information stored on the computers that contained the case files. The team tried to gain access to the missing information by appealing to the courthouse, however, when they got there, they found that the files had been impounded as requested by the church after settlements had been reached to seal the records. It had been as though these lawsuits had simply never occurred. The Spotlight team were no longer going after single priests or the law, they understood the need to go after the institution itself because this was evidence of the extent to which the church went in attempt to systematically cover up the priestly rape rampage that had been occurring at the time.
In most catholic communities it was seen as an extreme honor to have a priest take active interest in one’s family. Members of the congregation went to great lengths to have priest’s involvement in their families, having them over for dinner and making use of the invaluable assistance priests as many of them offered the support of caretaking for families. Many priests took advantage of the poor and vulnerable state much of the laity found themselves in, people who were trusting of the church seeing it as an institution that was meant to care, support them, helping to guide them into living as devout Christians, however, the priests were actually the ones who failed to live puritanically themselves. Due to the congregation’s ignorance regarding the situation allowed the epidemic to evolve as they either never believed accusations brought against their ‘saintly’ priests or they merely put them off as a means to protect them, oblivious to the prevalent nature of the issue within their community. As said by one of the reporters, ‘if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.’ Those belonging to the church had evidently all played a pivotal role in their active involvement in the epidemic as they remained silent, in turn silencing the voice of the victims. This exposed the power the priesthood knowingly had over the laity and the way in which it exploited this power.
Through the investigations undertaken by the Globe which included interviews of victims, some unwilling to speak, but all providing invaluable evidence regarding the issue, the systematic pattern followed in these instances had evidently been established; A priest would molester a child, someone would tell the church, in some cases illicit legal action would take place which ultimately resulted in paying victims into submission and silence, the priest would retire from their former parish under a series of ‘on the shelf’ labels and emerge somewhere else where they would continue to procure new victims to take advantage of, and so the pattern continued.