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Sex Abuse by Clergy a Global Problem

Apr 19, 2002 | AP

Canada, Australia, Ireland, Britain, France, Germany, Mexico, Poland.

It may be the American cardinals who are headed to the Vatican, but the Roman Catholic Church has faced clergy sex scandals around the globe — with the most widespread problems in English-speaking countries.

No one knows whether those nations actually have more molester priests. Some observers suggest that victims in English-speaking countries — along with journalists, lawyers and prosecutors — just have more support if they dare to speak up.

"This is not just a problem in the American church, but American society is acting much more rapidly and openly in dealing with this than other societies around the world," said the Rev. Thomas Reese of America, the U.S. Jesuit magazine. "That's what makes it so visible."

Canada has faced devastating sex abuse scandals. Indians in that nation have filed 2,500 compensation claims over physical and sexual abuse at boarding schools run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and the order filed for bankruptcy protection last week.

Also, Archbishop Alphonsus Penney of St. John's, Newfoundland, became the first prelate to resign for poor administration when he quit in 1991 after more than 20 of his clergy were charged with molesting boys.

Australian cases began surfacing in the late 1980s, and during the past nine years at least 50 priests and brothers have been sentenced for sexual offenses.

One of the worst involved sex rings at four Christian Brothers orphanages. Barry Coldrey, a Christian Brother who aided government inquiries, said he received Vatican pressure to stop releasing material about his findings.

In Ireland, the church faces "the greatest institutional crisis in its modern history," the Irish Times editorialized last week.

An estimated 3,000 victims at church-run schools and orphanages will share up to $500 million under a January deal, with the church contributing about $110 million and Irish taxpayers the rest. Each victim who applies to a compensation tribunal would receive at least $50,000 on condition they drop other claims against the church or government.

This month, the government began preparing an unprecedented investigation into church conduct, though Catholic leaders remain vague on whether they will hand case files to police. The church has launched its own in-house probe.

Twenty-one priests were convicted of molestation between 1995 and 1999 in England. There, as in Ireland, bishops have set up a child-protection office.

Continental Europe has suffered fewer public cases, but they have still been embarrassing.

For instance, in 1995 several former high school boys charged Austria's primate, Cardinal Hans Groer, with molestation. He went into exile amid thanks from the Vatican for his service; no full explanation or apology has ever been given.

Poland's Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, formerly part of the pope's personal staff, denied priests' allegations of past sexual harassment but resigned in March anyway.

"The time when we could pretend that there is no such problem has just ended before our eyes," said the Rev. Tomasz Weclawski, head of the theology department at Poznan University, where the case surfaced.

This week, the pope accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Franziskus Eisenbach of Mainz, Germany, who was accused of sexually abusing and injuring a woman during an exorcism. Prosecutors lacked enough evidence to pursue the case but the Vatican asked Eisenbach to step down, adding that did not mean he was guilty.

In France, the secretary general of the bishops' conference says nearly 30 priests have been convicted of molestation over the past decade. That prompted the bishops to set new guidelines in 2000, pledging abusive priests will not be shielded from the law.

But last year a bishop was convicted for doing just that, the first time in more than 150 years that a prelate was found guilty of a crime.

In nations such as Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland, few or no cases have been reported.

In Italy, however, if instances do occur "it's almost impossible that a priest would be accused," given the nature of the country's heavily Catholic culture, said author Giordano Bruno Guerri.

Archbishop Giovanni Tonucci, the Vatican representative to Kenya, said he knows of three or four abuse cases the past six years in east Africa. The Rev. Livingstone Kanyike, chaplain of Uganda's Makerere University said priestly misconduct in Africa "has more to do with women than boys."

Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman for India's bishops, expressed a typical view in Asia: "The sex scandal is limited to the western countries."

But Chongsuh Kim, religion chairman at Seoul National University, cautions that the fact South Korea (news - web sites) has no known cases "doesn't mean that such abuses don't exist."

Why are there scandals in America? "The United States is more open about sex," he said.

When Mexico's hierarchy met this month, church authorities first said that nation had no abuse cases — then admitted it did. But Archbishop Sergio Obeso told a news conference evidence of crimes won't be given to authorities.


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