In 2002, The Boston Globe uncovered and exposed the systematic sex abuse in the Catholic Church. These discoveries paved the way for thousands more abuse scandals to be uncovered, and put the Catholic Church under scrutiny for the next 17 years. The story was so inspiring that the movie “Spotlight” was created to tell the true story of how these crimes came to light.
The true story “Spotlight” tells is this: Sexual abuse runs rampant in the Catholic Church, and the scandal goes all the way up to the Vatican. The Boston Globe wrote 600 articles about the scandals, which lead to public accusations against 271 clergy members, and brought more than 1,000 survivors in Boston to step forward. In that year, BishopAccountability.org also came out with a list of places where major abuse allegations have been found. On that list, two Michigan cities: Detroit and Grand Rapids. But if this was in 2002, it has definitely been taken care of by now, right?
Flash forward to 2018: the Pennsylvania grand jury. A grand jury report exposed that more than 300 Catholic priests were credibly accused of abuse in August, focusing specifically on six Pennsylvania diocese. It found that hundreds of priests abused children and that church officials helped cover it up. Since then, states like New York, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and New Mexico have also begun working to investigate the scandals in the Catholic church. Priests from cities all over the nation joined the cacophony of voices rising up in protest and began to issue statements condemning the cycle of abuse and cover-ups that have overrun the church. But that did not even come close to solving the issue.
Now, in 2019, Pope Francis issued a statement on the fact that nuns have been consistently abused by clergymen — another scandal that has been covered up for decades. These women have had children and forced abortions due to the abuse and rape they endured from their own superiors. Some have been reduced to sexual slavery at the hands of many of men in their dioceses. These kinds of abuses have been happening all over the world; a report last year released cases of abuse in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. And this is the first time the Pope has issued any statement about the abuse of nuns and the first time it has been a big part of the general news cycle.
Many nuns issued reports as far back as the 1990s, only to be ignored and silenced. In 1996, there was a study from Saint Louis University that uncovered the the sexual trauma endured by nuns from Catholic priests. Some of the abused nuns did not share any of this information, even with their own community, for fear of not being believed or even being punished by their superiors. Others came forth long ago but were ignored. For a long time the cycle of silence in this particular community was too great to break. But now that it has been broken, the floodgates have opened.
The cover-up is one of the most disturbing parts of this already horrifying issue. It made clear that some of the highest officials of the church were culprits, whether they were an abuser or an accomplice. Even those who have been accused of doing nothing are not in fact doing nothing. They are assisting the abusers by turning a blind eye to their crimes, relocating them when the crime is found out and keeping them within the church. Allowing the abuse to continue under their watch is almost as bad as committing the abuse in the first place and they deserve repercussions for their actions.
With such a deeply rooted tradition of covering up instead of facing the allegations, when will the scandals end? Will we ever get to the bottom of this issue? Right now it seems like there is a new scandal coming out every day. After 17 years, we are just beginning to skim the surface of these atrocities. Pope Francis has stated: “I think it is still going on because something does not stop just because you have become aware of it.” It is not enough for this to have been uncovered. The Catholic Church needs to take action and rectify the situation. And this will only come through rooting out all the abusers and starting fresh with new policies to prevent this from ever happening again. Several US bishops have already proposed developing a code of conduct and creating a committee to develop policies, but few concrete changes are being enacted now. What is a clear course of action right now is removing all known abusers and accomplices from the ranks of the Catholic Church; neither should be allowed to stay in power. “Spotlight” paved the way, but now the Catholic church must walk down it, either to restoration or retribution.
Dana Pierangeli can be reached at email@example.com.