Why the Vatican Still Struggles with Sex Abuse Scandals

An article published in the Washington Post explores reasons why the Catholic Church has thus far been slow to take any meaningful action against sexual abuse, even as more and more people have come forward with stories of abuse. 

Though Pope Francis was heralded by many Catholics as "a figure who could modernize the church and help it regain its credibility," he has had a mixed record in handling allegations of abuse. Some people have attributed this to his learning curve, while others say the Catholic Church itself is the problem, with its notorious aversion to rapid change. 

The Church has a long way to go in reforming its policies - it has not yet made its investigations and disciplinary procedures more transparent and does not release data on inquiries it has carried out. When church leaders are found to have committed abuse, they are generally allowed to resign without explanation, rather than being fired and publicly admonished. 

We hope to see the Catholic Church do more in the years to come to improve accountability within the Church and clarify the ways in which those who suffer abuse can report their experiences. In turn, those who are found guilty of committing abuse should be publicly denounced, so that they are unable to move to a new community and continue abusing others. 

Report decries culture of acceptance of sexual abuse at Catholic schools

A report has been released, damning the culture of acceptance of child sexual abuse at Ampleforth and Downside, two of the UK's foremost Catholic independent schools. The report found that the true scale of sexual abuse at the schools is likely to have been even greater than has been proven in the courts. 

So far, ten people have been convicted or cautioned in relation to sexual offences at the schools, and the report found that "Many perpetrators did not hide their sexual interests from the children. The blatant openness of these activities demonstrates there was a culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour."

Both schools destroyed records of complaints and transferred suspected perpetrators elsewhere, rather than taking them out of schools. The Catholic church in England has noted the report's conclusions and says it stands by apologies already made on its behalf to victims and survivors. 

We at AO Advocates support all victims and survivors at these and other schools and welcome reports like the ones conducted at these schools, exposing abuses and supporting victims' and survivors' claims.

Victims of Barry Bennell may not be allowed to testify

Barry Bennell, a former football coach at Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra, has been found guilty of 50 counts of sexual abuse against 12 victims. On Monday, he was sentenced to 31 years in prison. However, up to 86 other victims may never be able to testify against Bennell, if it is decided that a further trial would not be in the public interest. Detectives are continuing to investigate complaints in order that the most serious allegations may form part of a second trial; however, for any future trial to proceed, it would need to be determined by Crown Prosecution Service lawyers to be in the public interest.

We believe that Bennell’s victims deserve the chance to have their voices heard in a court of law. The scope of the abuse Bennell committed is unimaginable, and all who suffered at his hands deserve an equal chance to ensure he receives justice. In addition, ensuring that Bennell is convicted for each and every assault he has committed will allow victims to regain control over their past by seeking compensation for the psychiatric harm these assaults have caused, either by applying to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and/or pursuing a claim in civil court.

Report released on web-based exploitation in the UK

In a recently released report detailing web-based exploitation in the UK, it was found that as many as 4% of adults have at some point engaged with images of child sexual abuse on the internet. The report also states, “It would be fair to assume that no less than 5% of young men and 16% of young women receive unwanted sexual requests each year.”

A growing number of child sexual abuse images involve computer manipulation, meaning that the photos may not have been of a sexual nature when they were taken, but were later edited to include sexual content. Almost a quarter of images were taken covertly, without the knowledge of the victim.

Manipulated images are one way to circumvent laws around child pornography, as the images do not actually depict child abuse. While it is positive that these images are being used as a substitute to harming children, we recognise that distress can still be caused to families by manipulating images of children for others’ use. We advise parents to be vigilant when sharing photos of their children, to avoid having these images fall into the wrong hands. As children begin to use the internet independently, it is also important to discuss with them how to keep themselves safe and secure.    

Pope Francis accuses sexual abuse victims of slander

Pope Francis recently visited Chile, ostensibly to offer support to victims of Rev Fernando Karadima, a notorious paedophile. While there, however, he said that until he saw proof that Bishop Juan Barros helped cover up Karadima’s sex crimes, he would consider all accusations against Barros to be “calumny.”

Pope Francis had already angered Karadima’s victims when he appointed Juan Barros, a protégé of Karadima, as bishop of the southern diocese of Osorno in 2015. This trip to Chile was intended to help repair the wounds caused by his appointment of Barros, and to repair the reputation of the church in Chile. Instead, he has brought still more division and disappointment with the Catholic Church in Chile.

We are disappointed to see this lack of consideration for individuals who have already suffered at the hands of an abuser and applaud those who have come forward with their stories.

New recommendations released for protecting victims of child sex abuse in Catholic schools

Lawyers representing victims of child sex abuse in Catholic schools have come forward with recommendations for how to better protect children from abuse. These recommendations include mandatory reporting of sexual misconduct and ending the secrecy of a priest’s confessional box.

At present, information shared in priestly confessionals is considered privileged and may be kept secret, even if an individual reveals abuse at the hands of someone in the church. Ending this privileged status could begin to change attitudes in the Catholic Church toward abuse, and will begin to put in place protections for victims of child sexual abuse. At the very least, for those who experience abuse, it will give them the chance to know that their voices will be heard and that they can receive the help they need.