Child Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church

July 27, 2015 Abuse and Neglect Attorney

The Pope’s New Tribunal

The child sex abuse scandals that have surrounded the Catholic Church in the last few decades are so numerous as to be considered almost commonplace. But what caused so much public outcry had less to do with the child sex abuse itself, and more to do with how the church handled it. In a number of countries, the Church was accused of deliberately relocating priests accused of child sex abuse, instead of removing them from their positions or parishes.

Victims were paid for their silence, or simply ignored. The Church plodded on. But the backlash got stronger, louder, and in 2002 the Boston Globe began an in depth investigation. Over the next decade, the outpouring on victim’s testimonies reached fever pitch. The Church finally decided it was time to act.

In 2001, the Church made it law that child sex abuse cases were to be reported to Rome. In July 2010, the Vatican doubled the length of time after a victim’s 18th birthday, that a clergyman can be tried in a church court for child abuse. They also streamlined the processes for removing “pedophile priests”. People still weren’t satisfied. More should be done.  The Church needed to make every effort to root out the sexual abuse of children within its walls. And expose those who protect abusers.

Pope Francis, in an effort to address the issue at hand, has recently created a new Vatican tribunal section aimed at hearing the cases against Bishops who are accused of protecting abusive priests, or failing to protect children.

Throughout recent decades, thousands of Bishops have been accused of relocating known child abusers when allegations were made against them. In an effort to preserve the church, and at the expense of countless children, sexually abusive priests were simply sent to serve in a different parish, instead of being stripped of their church title and handed over to authorities.

In Michigan alone, the number of Bishops who are accused of protecting abusive priests or abusing children themselves is staggering. According to, 64 priests have been accused or convicted in the Detroit Archdiocese alone. 12 in the Diocese of Lansing, 13 in Grand Rapids, 9 in Marquette. In Gaylord, there have been 6, and 2 in Kalamazoo and Saginaw. No diocese is free from allegations, many of them proven.

This new approach to child sex abuse in the church is centered around the creation of a new crime in canon law – the “abuse of episcopal office”. The Pope has ordered Bishops around the world to cooperate with his new commission in order to “root out the scourge”. Even if the result is new scandals being brought to light.

It will be interesting to see whether or not this affects the number of child sex abuse allegations made against the church in the future. And how they are handled.