Pope offers empty words about sex abuse scandal

Pope Benedict XVI has issued an apology to Catholics in Ireland regarding the sex abuse scandal rocking the country’s Catholic Church. But the letter contains no action items, no real accountability for those implicated in the scandal.

Heartbreaking reports released last year detail an extensive history of sexual and other physical abuse of children by church authorities and subsequent cover-ups. In brief:

In one [report], four Dublin archbishops were found to have effectively turned a blind eye to cases of abuse from 1975 to 2004.

The Dublin archdiocese, it said, operated in a culture of concealment, placing the integrity of its institutions above the welfare of the children in its care.

In the wake of the report, four bishops resigned and the entire Irish hierarchy was summoned to the Vatican to give an account of themselves in person before the Pope.
Six months earlier, another report – the result of a nine-year investigation – documented some six decades of physical , sexual and emotional abuse at residential institutions run by 18 religious orders.

With the Church still reeling from the reports’ findings, a fresh scandal erupted in March 2010 when it emerged the head of the Irish Catholic Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, was present at meetings in 1975 where children signed vows of silence over complaints against a paedophile priest, Fr Brendan Smyth.

I was a high school student in Boston, MA when news of the Catholic sex abuse scandal in that city broke. Recent news is igniting those memories for me. Bostonians watched as Cardinal Law was given a cushy position in the Vatican by the previous pope after protecting priests who abused their parishioners. Cardinal Sean Brady, who heads the Irish church, was not even asked to resign in the Pope’s letter. Will any real action be taken against this Cardinal who also covered up abuse?

Sex abuse scandals are breaking in many other countries as well. There is an undeniable pattern among Catholic Church officials of protecting priests who use their positions of spiritual and moral authority to abuse those who look to them for guidance. What will it take for this incredibly church to confront its own culture of abuse?

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

Read more about Jos

Join the Conversation

  • emeyel

    What will it take for the church to confront its own culture of abuse? Nothing, because it never will.
    Well, maybe actual criminal prosecution, but most countries (including the USA) allow Catholic sex-abuse cases to be dealt with in-house, either officially or tacitly.
    But even actual criminal prosecution probably won’t do the trick, since Irish bishops are now whining that the church appears to be coming under special, unfair scrutiny. Aw, boo-hoo-hoo.

  • Toongrrl

    And meanwhile the church was telling us women to shut up and make babies and to close our eyes while we make said babies and telling us to just hold faith and accept our fate rather than taking stride of our own lives.

  • MzFitz

    I was in High School in Northern NJ when the Boston sex abuse scandal broke. I had just been confirmed when the Monsignor who confirmed me, molested a family friend. We found out when we were driving home from a sports camp, and ALL of the NY TV stations were camped out in front of our church.
    He was moved to a church a few towns over. My parents attended a friend’s wedding to find that this is where he had gone, and would be marrying their friends. He died a few years later. They are still Catholic, I am not. I went through the motions as a child because I had to while living under my parents’ roof.
    The culture of subservience for most that leads to so much power for a few will always enable, and encourage this type of abuse.

  • Athenia

    I really don’t understand why they are allowed to handle it “in house.” They really suck at handling it, plain and simple.
    Parishoners need to demand something different or stop giving them money.

  • Comrade Kevin

    This is such a systemic issue. I may have mentioned before that a man my grandfather’s age once told me that as a boy in a Catholic school, back in the 30’s, that he was inappropriately touched by a Priest.
    Apparently, among the boys in the school, a saying circulated—“Don’t tell Father Timothy that you’re sick, or he’ll want to give you a physical.”

  • saintcatherine

    FYI: Cardinal Law was not given a “cushy job at the Vatican,” he went from having one of the most important jobs in the Church (cardinal archbishop of a gigantic Catholic diocese in the U.S.) to holding a paper-pushing, administrative banality of a powerless job right under the watchful eye of the pope himself.
    In my opinion, his punishment– given for not taking more action against abusers — should have been worse; he should have been forced into a retirement, and perhaps even served prison time. But you make it sound as if he was promoted! Why do you do that?

  • saintcatherine

    Also, I was just thinking about your “empty words” title, Jos: As Cardinal head of the CDF in the 90’s, Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) demanded that all accusations of abuse be sent to his office, rather than being dealt with strictly on the local level, which is where the problem of cover-ups really is located. He was “notorious” for doing thorough investigations and censure of priests who had been proven guilty, much to the dismay of those bishops who had tried to keep things quieter and under their own power in the diocese.
    If Pope Benedict says nothing further on Ireland, I will 100% criticize him and think him unwilling to help victims. But right now I bet that he himself is dealing with cases that are mostly decades old and is likely trying to do a very thorough job, himself, so that other people don’t screw it up.