The Vatican summit of American cardinals helped focus worldwide attention on the scandal of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the United States, but dozens of similar cases in other countries show the problem is not limited to America.
Now some Catholics in other countries are hoping the two-day Vatican summit will help their own efforts to deal with abusive priests.
Anger has been building in staunchly Catholic Ireland around a string of sex abuse cases, some dating back 60 years. Irish bishops met this week to devise a way for specialists in child abuse to audit each diocese.
Cardinal Desmond Connell of Dublin has been under pressure to resign after failing to respond to complaints of abuse by clergy. Only since the U.S. scandal broke have Catholics elsewhere awakened to the fact that a problem they believed was local is in fact widespread, said Mark Morley of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
England’s 4 million minority Catholic community has been rocked by scandal as well: 21 Catholic priests and bishops received criminal abuse convictions from 1995 to 1999.
In France last year, a bishop was convicted for seeking to keep from police evidence that a priest was sexually abusing children. German bishops met this week to discuss the issue after a German bishop linked to a sex-abuse case resigned.
In Pope John Paul II’s native Poland, the Vatican launched an inquiry into allegations by a Polish newspaper that the archbishop of Pznan had sexually abused seminarians and priests.
Mexico’s Catholic Church has broken years of silence about priests whose abuse cases the church allegedly tried to deal with only internally.
The admission came after clerics at a national assembly were bombarded with questions by emboldened journalists, and after a leading bishop, Sergio Obeso, declared that the church’s “dirty laundry” was “best washed at home.”
“No one should be above the law,” Roman Catholic Cardinal Norberto Rivera, the church’s top official, commented a few days later. An abusive priest, he said, should be “denounced to the respective authorities, and justice must be done.”
Theologians and church officials in Brazil, the world’s largest Catholic country, say the American scandal has forced into the open abuse cases that before would have been hidden.
In the last two months, three cases of priests allegedly abusing children have been made public. As in America, the Brazilian cases have prompted debate about how best to handle the priests, as sick men in need of treatment or criminals in need of incarceration.
Bishop Angelico Sandalo Bernardino, head of vocations and ministry of the Brazilian National Conference of Bishops, implied that the church should handle the matter internally.
“Pedophilia is a crime and should be punished as so, but the church should not take one of its sons to the prosecutor,” he told the Brazilian Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper. “It would be the same as asking a father to take to the police his son who is a cocaine user. If he is rehabilitated, the priest can return to the ministry,” Bernardino said.
Many Brazilians disagree.
“People are very angry,” said Maria Clara Bingemer, a theologian at the Pontifical Catholic University, writing in Rio de Janeiro’s O Globo newspaper. “The anger, however, is not at those who committed the abuse. It is against those who knew about the facts but did not take action.”