04 April 2019, The Tablet

Clerical abuse – the colonial factor

Clerical abuse – the colonial factor

One of the earliest baptisms of native Americans by Catholic missionaries


Our understanding of the Church’s crisis has been framed by reports that link sex abuse to white, urban Catholic communities, but as an American historian points out, disturbing accounts of abuse by priests in Native communities in the United States challenge us to think differently

The Catholic Church has been convulsed by an unprecedented crisis in recent years as criminal prosecutions and independent reports and inquiries into sexual abuse – in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere – have revealed the molestation of children and vulnerable adults by Catholic priests and its cover-up by their superiors on a vast and shocking scale.

In the United States, two investigations loom large in the public consciousness. First, in 2002, The Boston Globe published a series of stories based on its investigation into decades of clerical abuse of young people and its concealment in the Archdiocese of Boston. Then in August last year, more than a decade-and-a-half later, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania released a 1,400-page grand jury report detailing allegations of abuse and cover-up against some 300 priests and their superiors across six dioceses.

Each of these reports and the stories they produced generated raw rage and grief among US Catholics, and each caused the Church in the US and the Vatican to respond. Six months after the Globe broke its investigation, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops established its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the “Dallas Charter”; a month after the Pennsylvania report, in response to this and other disturbing revelations in the US and around the world, Pope Francis announced that the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences would come to the Vatican to discuss the sexual abuse of minors. That historic meeting took place on 21-24 February.

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