Child Sexual Abuse Inquiries and the Catholic Church: Reassessing the Evidence
From a Firenze University Press Book
Virginia Miller, Charles Sturt University, Australia
The Catholic Church has recently come under heavy fire from national and international media as a result, in large part, of ‘revelations’ apparently provided by multiple official national inquiries into child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Ireland, the United States, Netherlands, Australia and currently in the UK. Hundreds, indeed thousands, of Catholic priests have allegedly engaged in child sexual abuse and the Church is held to have frequently covered up acts of child sexual abuse and sought to protect the abusers rather than their victims. If the media is to be believed, child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church exists on a vast scale; certainly the reputational damage to the Catholic Church has been enormous. However, the question must be asked as to whether this global media frenzy reflects the facts; indeed, reflects the facts that have been unearthed by these inquiries. This book provides an objective, evidence-based description of the nature and extent of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the Catholic Church’s response to this abuse, based on a sustained analysis of the most influential of these completed inquiries, namely those conducted in Ireland, the United States and Australia.
Unfortunately, the usual commentary on this subject is often characterised more by emotion and ideology (whether radical or conservative) than an issue to be illuminated by recourse to the facts and principles of reasoning. Indeed, works in this area are inevitably controversial by virtue of the polarisation and politicisation of the topic of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church In this context, evidence-based, objective research is crucially important. Moreover, there is a need for a degree of senstivity to these controversies. Therefore, I am willing to work with the Press to address these issues, should they arise. However, to reiterate, this book relies, in large part, on the evidence provided by the three key global inquiries into child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church conducted in Ireland, the USA, and Australia respectively, i.e. it relies on the best available evidence. Based on this evidence, it outlines the extent of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Ireland, the USA, and Australia during the periods covered by these inquires (roughly the last hundred years but especially from the 1960s to the present day). The extent of this child sexual abuse is, unsurprisingly, a damning indictment of the Catholic Church. However, also based on this evidence, I draw two conclusions that many will find surprising, especially in the light of overall media coverage. Firstly, child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the countries surveyed, while widespread during the 1960s and 1970s in particular, is largely an historical problem. Secondly, a significant array of safe-guarding mechanisms and other initiatives, such as training programs, have been introduced into the Catholic Church since the 1990s. Moreover, given the sharp decline in allegations of incidents of child sexual alleged to have occurred since the 1990’s, overall, these mechanisms appear to have been effective in curbing child sexual abuse. That said, a number of processes that the Catholic Church put in place seem not to have been effective. For instance, the Catholic Church provided psychological and counselling services to offenders and these, by and large, proved ineffective in many cases.
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