Tell me if you’ve heard this one before…
An independent Commission of Inquiry was conducted recently, investigating historical child sexual abuse within the Dutch Roman Catholic Church.
They found tens of thousands of victims and (wait for it) about 800 possible perpetrators over the span of around 60 years. It’s incredible how much “sin” took place in a place that’s supposed to be holy.
Statistics indicate that, in general, child sexual abuse is vastly under-reported, so the numbers are likely far higher than what was found.
Why does this happen? Here are a few possible theories as to why the sexual abuse of children remains quite prominent within the Church:
- Child sex abusers are drawn to a profession where they will have ample opportunities to work with young children where they are in a position of power, authority, and trust.
- The repression of sexuality that is mandatory within the Catholic Church leads to “unhealthy” sexual behaviours.
- The perpetrators themselves also grew up within the Church and possibly had their own sexual abuse experiences and are thus perpetuating the abuse cycle.
- Religion urges followers (including innocent children) to trust people they might otherwise be wary of.
Wim Deetman, the former government minister who commissioned this investigation seems to agree with at least one of those theories (Yes, I know, I’m quoting FOX News. I apologize).
Deetman said the inquiry could not establish a “scientific link” between priests’ celibacy and abuse, but he added, “we don’t consider it impossible… maybe if there was voluntary celibacy a number of problems would not have happened.”
(If celibacy became voluntary, would any priests really opt for it?)
It will also come as no surprise that the church attempted to conceal the dismal facts.
“Bishops and other church authorities were not ignorant of the problem of sexual abuse. Moreover, in the view of the Commission of Inquiry, in many cases they failed to take adequate action and paid too little attention to victims,” the report says.
Not to mention that Church staff who had been accused of such crimes were often sent to other institutions to teach but never actually admonished. The protection of the Church was paramount to the protection of innocent children. This is, of course, not the first time cover ups have occurred — just ask the Pope.
The Dutch Church set up a fund for financial compensations to the victims, scaled based on the nature and severity of the abuse and are making some other attempts at reparation. While I suppose that something is better than nothing, it’s not nearly enough. Acknowledgement and change needs to happen on a much larger scale.
While I often wish that the confines of religion were abolished, I don’t feel overly optimistic about that possibility. In the meantime, parents need to educate their children about what sexual abuse is and how to keep themselves safe. Blind faith in a non-existent god is one thing, but parents need not have blind faith in religious “leaders.” Young children believe what they are told, especially by those they trust. Most children also have an innate sense of what is right or wrong. When you advise children to fully trust in people merely because they are “servants” to your god, and you assume they are therefore good people, you rob that child of the vital ability to use their intuition. Compound this with the guilt and shame that is plentiful within most religions (especially when it comes to that sinful sexual stuff) and you create a terrible situation where a child is not likely to disclose what’s happening to them and the abuse continues.
I work professionally with children who have experienced sexual abuse and I am by no means claiming that most sexual abuse happens within the confines of religion, because it doesn’t. However, religion has the tendency to override rationality and good judgment. Parents need to acknowledge that religion does not make you any more moral than others and that bad people will do bad things… so teach your children to recognize those people.
I would give this same advice to all parents, religious or not: Protect your children. Because there probably isn’t a god out there doing it for you.