Religious fervor and fanaticism are things most people associate with issues like foreign terrorism, secluded communities and even cult-based crimes. They usually aren’t things most Americans associate with Christianity, the most popular religion in the world. It could be because Christianity and Catholicism have been deeply rooted in American society since its founding. Fanatical practices aren’t just reserved for religions we deem as part of the “other” — Catholicism is guilty of its own crimes, all to maintain its adamantly holy image, regardless of both the victims and perpetrators.
On Aug. 14, a grand jury report was released, revealing that across six dioceses in Pennsylvania, more than 300 Catholic priests were sexually abusing children in a scandal estimated to span nearly seven decades, with the earliest date of abuse documented in 1947. With over 1,000 victims, both male and female, and with ages ranging from incredibly young children to teenagers, this recent report on the scandal is described by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro as the “largest, most comprehensive report into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church ever produced in the United States.”
There are reports of extensive grooming methods among perpetrators, even going so far as to “mark” groomed and abused children by giving them gold cross necklaces as a method to single out these children as targets to other abusers. Sadly, these are not the most horrifying details. One parish alone had five priests accused of sexual abuse. Some reports include a priest raping a 7-year-old girl as she recovered from a tonsillectomy in the hospital, a victim as old as 83 years old coming forward to testify about the abuse he suffered and five members of a single family being subjected to abuse.
Where were church leaders, one might ask? Their leaders were actually occupied at the time: They were busy covering up these crimes. One former priest was himself a victim of this abuse at the hands of his fellow clergyman, and when he told the bishop of Erie Diocese, nothing was done. “He certainly treated me as if it was nothing,” the former priest said. “When I told him that Father Martin molested me 15 times, he couldn’t even bring himself to say that he was sorry that that happened to me.”
Church leaders repeatedly covered up crimes, often showing more sympathy for the perpetrators than the young victims themselves. An excerpt from the report states: “He emphasized the high cost of incarceration. In another case, a priest raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The bishop expressed his feelings in a letter: ‘This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.’ But this letter was not for the girl. It was addressed to the rapist.”
It’s a famous Christian proverb to never throw stones at another if we ourselves are sinners. Before we judge others on their faith and act as though committing heinous acts under the guise of religion is a foreign problem, we should take a long, hard look at our own institutions and beliefs. These church leaders are no different than those who commit acts of violence in support of their “religious beliefs.” They were protecting child abusers, abandoning victims and showing no regard for their own members for the sake of maintaining the church’s image, rather than doing what, in my opinion, would be the true Christian thing — sending these men to prison as soon as the abuse started. If faith and the power of religion really do lie in the belief of the people, then I think that Catholicism is losing some footing as a result of these scandals. The number of Christians is decreasing in multiple places around the world, and with horrors like these occurring behind closed doors, is it any wonder why?
Elizabeth Short is a sophomore majoring in biology.