Uncovering abuse in the Catholic Church in 2023

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Uncovering abuse in the Catholic Church in 2023

The pace with which cases of abuse in the Catholic Church are investigated across Europe continues to show signs of both progress and hesitation.

In the late 2000s, the demand for investigations into cases of abuse related to members of the Catholic Church’s clergy spread across Europe.[1] Ever since, the way in which these demands have been handled has become one of the most pertinent and persistent questions facing the Church.

This topic has continued to be a regular issue across the continent in 2023. By using the EARS dashboard, we are given the opportunity to see both similarities and differences in how this subject is being tackled in a variety of European countries.

Uncovering abuse in the Catholic Church

EARS analysts search for the most significant news relating to the subject of religion and society from across Europe. By focusing on different countries, their collaborative effort leads to the creation of an extensive database of summaries in the dashboard. When we look at the question of abuse, and use the ‘Topic’ filter to isolate it, we have 171 summaries added in 2023 so far.

Using the ‘Countries’ tab, we can see that the dashboard has collected summaries from across Europe, with more than 20 countries covered. Furthermore, using the ‘Languages’ tab, we can get a sense of the different languages in which the topic of abuse has been written about.

Greater transparency

During 2023, the bishops’ conferences of a number of European countries took significant steps towards more transparency over past abuses.

As reported by Euronews, in September, the Swiss Bishops’ Conference completed a year-long study into allegations of abuse by members of the Swiss clergy. The publication of the report identified 1,002 cases of abuse, with accusations against 510 different people. The report included information regarding the gender of the victims and the types of institutions in which it happened. It also concluded by acknowledging that in the past, the Church had “routinely transferred abusers and convicted clerics,” and in doing so, “the interests of the Catholic Church and its leaders were placed before the well-being and protection of parishioners.”[2]

The findings of the Swiss report were reminiscent of those from a report released in February 2023 by the Portuguese Bishops Conference. This report was once again of international interest, with Dutch, Finnish, and Italian articles summarised for the dashboard. It estimated that 4,815 children had been victims of abuse in the past 70 years. In response, the bishops have publicly asked victims for forgiveness and agreed to create a memorial to victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy.[3]

The news of the Portuguese abuse report was covered across Europe, as seen on the dashboard.

Steps in the right direction

Perhaps the most significant effort made to reflect on past abuses so far in Europe was that of the Sauvé report, published by the French Bishops Conference in 2021. They estimated that 330,000 children had been abused by church figures in the last 70 years. The report was accompanied by a plea for forgiveness from the head of the Conference, and a commitment to grant compensation to victims.[4]

By looking at the dashboard, we can analyse the extent to which progress has been made during 2023 on these promises. First, we must select the date range to only include 2023, and then add ‘France’ from the countries list. Once we add the topic abuse from our topic list, we are left with 19 articles, many of which are greatly relevant to our analysis.

One example is that of Belgian website Kerknet reporting in March 2023 that 200 victims of abuse in France had now received compensation, averaging a total of 38,000 euros.[5] This story was also covered in the Swedish Aftonbladet.[6]

Alongside this, the Catholic Church in France has also introduced a new scheme whereby all clergy will possess an identity card which has a QR code on it. This code will allow members of the public to verify that the clergy member has no past involvement in inappropriate or illegal behaviour. As reported by FranceTV Info, this change has come as a result of the recommendations of the Sauvé report, and is intended to create greater confidence as the digital certification will not be possible to falsify.[7]

Continued reluctance

While Portugal and Switzerland seemed to have followed France in pushing to open greater transparency on this issue, the dashboard allows us to see that not all European countries have done the same.

Throughout 2023, the Spanish Catholic Church has continued to be reluctant in participating with a government-commissioned public investigation into abuses in the institution. Rather than follow the process demonstrated by France, the Spanish Church has continued to deny that the Church has a unique problem of historic sexual abuse. Instead, they have reiterated that abuse is a wider social problem and it is incorrect to particularly highlight their institution.[8]

Meanwhile, historic cases of abuse led to protests in Poland in April 2023, when former pope John Paul II was accused of having helped to cover up cases of abuse when Bishop of Kraków. The Church has responded to these accusations by saying that their files did not support these accusations. While the Church suggested that these files could be made public in the future, the defence of John Paul II’s reputation has become a politically controversial question with right-wing governing party Law and Justice adopting strong positions against the accusations.[9]

Uneven progress, uncertain future

Although we have only touched on the ongoing development across Europe, it is evident that abuse scandals and their investigations are continuing to be a highly important issue for European churches. It is exactly on issues like these, which affect many European countries, that the EARS dashboard is at its most valuable.

While search engine queries may simply yield the articles with the most hits or particular SEO strategies, the EARS dashboard, supported by its expert analysts, helps you get the most important perspectives from across the continent. As the investigations and accusations continue to emerge in coming years, it will remain to be seen if trust can be rebuilt between the Church and both its followers and the wider public. Make sure to check in on the dashboard if you want to stay up to date with this, and many other themes relating to religion and society in Europe.

Freddie Scott

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[1] Timeline: Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandals | CNN

[2] Study finds 1,000 cases of sex abuse in Swiss Catholic Church | Euronews

[3] Portugese bisschoppen maken eerste maatregelen na misbruikrapport bekend – Katholiek Nieuwsblad

[4] French report: 330,000 children victims of church sex abuse | AP News

[5] Frankrijk: 200 slachtoffers van misbruik krijgen schadevergoeding | Kerknet

[6] Katolska kyrkan kompenserar övergreppsoffer

[7] REPORTAGE. “Il suffit de flasher ce QR code”: l’Église lance une carte d’identité numérique pour s’assurer que les prêtres sont aptes à célébrer

[8] Ángel Gabilondo: un año de trabajo con las víctimas, sin lograr concretar la colaboración de la Iglesia

[9] Poles march to defend Pope John Paul II against abuse cover-up accusations | Reuters