Victims of Pedophile Priests Speak Out
“DURING the past decade, some 400 Roman Catholic priests have been reported to church or civil authorities for sexual abuse of children,” according to U.S.News & World Report. Recently, a national gathering of survivors of such abuse was held near Chicago, Illinois. Many spoke openly of how they had been victimized by pedophile priests.
But NCR (National Catholic Reporter) notes that speakers sounded another theme repeatedly throughout the conference: “The first abuse is sexual; the second and more painful, is psychological.” This second abuse occurs when the church refuses to listen to victims of abuse, fails to take their accusations seriously, and moves only to protect the offending priests. “Fairly or unfairly,” NCR reports, “they portrayed Catholic clergy as belonging to an unhealthy and misguided group more bent on preserving privilege and power than in serving lay needs.” Several speakers made ominous comparisons to the Reformation, which split the church wide open in the 16th century.
According to Richard Sipe, a former priest turned psychotherapist and expert on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, all this institutional denial reveals “a deep, desperate and knowing personal involvement in the problem.” He added: “The church knows and has known for a long time a great deal about the sexual activity of its priests. It has looked the other way, tolerated, covered up and simply lied about the broad spectrum of sexual activity of its priests.”
Not surprisingly, then, many abuse survivors are suing the church. NCR quotes one attorney who specializes in such cases as saying that there are pedophile-priest cases in each of the church’s 188 dioceses in the United States. He says that out-of-court settlements have run as high as $300,000 per case. U.S.News & World Report says that such suits have already cost the church $400,000,000, a figure that could surge to $1 billion by the year 2000. And the Canadian Press reported recently that some 2,000 survivors of childhood sexual abuse in 22 church-run orphanages and mental institutions in Quebec are suing six religious orders for $1.4 billion in damages.
Interestingly, though, the aforementioned U.S. attorney, who represents 150 victims of pedophile priests in 23 states, says that he has never yet had a client who was eager to go to court. Each one first tried to seek justice “within the pastoral context of the church.” NCR concludes: “Survivors go to the courts, it appears, not as a first resort, but as a last resort.”