Insights from the dashboard: The ever-present topic of abuse in European media

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Insights from the dashboard: The ever-present topic of abuse in European media

Abuse is an ever-present topic in the newspapers when it comes to religion. How can the EARS dashboard help track the media coverage?

A single event and the bigger picture

At the end of July 2022, Pope Francis visited Canada. The purpose of the trip was to beg forgiveness for the abuse committed against indigenous children in Catholic boarding schools.[1] Newspapers all over Europe reported about this journey of the head of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a recent example of media coverage concerning abuse and religion, and it has influenced the results of our research tool – the EARS dashboard.

The function of the dashboard is to track and depict reports on religion and society in European online media. By doing this, it enables users to comprehend developments and detect specific tendencies. One of the consistently emerging topics is abuse. Therefore, it has its own tag in the search categories of the dashboard. The topic of abuse will serve in this article as an example to show how we can use the EARS dashboard and get a glimpse of the bigger picture.

Results of the research – facts & figures on abuse

How has the subject of abuse occurred in the past year? What is the progression? Can we detect any trends? And which countries are concerned the most? These are just a few questions we will cover in this article. But first, the general results of the search in the dashboard are as follows:

  • Between August 1st, 2021 and July 31st, 2022, the EARS analyst team added 3,487 summaries to the dashboard.
  • More than 15% (528 summaries) of these summaries are connected with the topic of abuse.
  • ‘Abuse’ is defined as “cruel and violent treatment by an individual or institution.”
  • Most summaries concerning abuse were published in or mentioning Spain (174), followed by France (88), Germany (70), and the United Kingdom (50). This is shown in the image below.
Countries in Europe that covered abuse the most from 1/8/2021 to 31/7/2022

Track the progression with the help of graphs and timelines

The EARS dashboard also generates graphs. Through them, we can figure out the progression of our topic and the links with other matters over time. The graph below depicts the occurrence of abuse in all article summaries. We can see some peaks in October 2021 (when 21% of summaries on the dashboard were connected to the topic), February 2022 (25%), and a lighter increase in June and July 2022 (13-14%). But what is the meaning of these facts and figures? What was happening at these times?

When we delve into the topic, apply a shorter timeframe, and take a closer look at the article summaries, we can find some explanations.

Percentage of articles in the dashboard covering abuse over time

Take a closer look – Church abuse scandals

When it comes to religion and abuse, it is not far-fetched to think first about the abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. And this is indeed the case here.

Firstly, there was the presentation of an independent investigation report on the sexual abuse of children in France in October 2021. It revealed the shocking number of 330,000 victims and the systematic abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. The coverage by the media on this issue was unsurprisingly huge and is the main reason for the high number of article summaries on the topic in the EARS dashboard in October 2021.[2] [3]

Dashboard results on abuse in France

Secondly, the next and even higher peak in February 2022 has comparable impulses. Two months earlier, a report was compiled by the Spanish newspaper El País and handed over to Pope Francis.[4] The report revealed 251 new cases of paedophiles within 31 dioceses and 31 Catholic orders in the past 80 years in Spain. Subsequently, a heated discussion on the need for an independent investigation arose and dominated the Spanish media for the following months.[5] [6] Eventually, in February, the Spanish Bishops’ Conference complied with the claims and commissioned an inquiry on sexual abuse in the Spanish Catholic Church.[7]

Dashboard result on abuse in Spain

But Spain was not the only European country facing a sexual abuse scandal during this time frame. Abuse reports on several German archdioceses and the disastrous dealing with them were covered and commented on by the media.[8] [9] On top of that, cover-up accusations emerged against Joseph Ratzinger, the former Pope Benedict XVI, at the beginning of 2022.[10]

Back to the beginning – subjects on abuse in European media

With those incidents in mind, it is no wonder abuse was a predominant issue in articles and headlines in the past year.

But the latest high of articles concerning abuse in July 2022 (14%) is of a somewhat different cast. Several issues caused the peak: the ongoing process of investigations in Spain, another revealed report in Münster, Germany, and the visit of Pope Francis to Canada.[11] [12] [13] The latter brings us back to the beginning of our article. On his journey, the pope expressed his sorrow and begged forgiveness from the indigenous of Canada. Therefore, this event can be seen as a different type of subject covered by European media regarding abuse and religion.

Word cloud generated on abuse on the EARS dashboard

Up to 25% of all news on religion is about abuse

As we have seen, the media addresses religion often in connection with abuse. It even reaches up to 25% of all news on religion. The topic mostly focuses on sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.

As a result, the EARS team is covering abuse too and has published various articles on this matter. For example, the article ‘Division and distrust – Abuse inquiries divide European clergy’ by Freddie Scott explains the situation in Spain, Germany, and other European countries.

Let us see how countries and institutions will deal with the topic of abuse in the future. The EARS dashboard will surely assist us in tracking the developments.

Elisabeth Waldl

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Want to know more about similar topics on religion and society? Go to the EARS Dashboard and get weekly updates on your selected subjects.


[1] Papa: Oprostite zbog crkvenog seksualnog zlostavljanja djece u Kanadi. Nikad više

[2] 330.000 Opfer in katholischer Kirche

[3] Tausende Pädophile in Frankreichs katholischer Kirche seit 1950

[4] El Papa ordena una investigación de abusos en España después de que El País le entregara un dossier con 251 nuevos casos

[5] El PNV pide que una comisión independiente investigue los abusos en la Iglesia: “Resultará más respetuosa con las víctimas”

[6] La presión social y mediática obliga a los obispos a investigar la pederastia en España con “transparencia, ayuda y reparación a las víctimas”

[7] Bishops in Spain ask lawyers to audit their sex abuse record

[8] Njemački biskup priznao propuste Crkve u skandalu sa seksualnim zlostavljanjem

[9] Kirche – München – Nach Gutachten: Forderungen nach mehr Kontrolle der Kirche

[10] Kirchenrichter werfen Benedikt XVI. Versäumnisse vor

[11] Javier Cremades: “Hay más conciencia, pero me temo que los niños no están más seguros”

[12] Report finds 196 German clerics abused children in Münster diocese

[13] Papa: Oprostite zbog crkvenog seksualnog zlostavljanja djece u Kanadi. Nikad više