On September 13th, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), in collaboration with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) made a formal request to the International Criminal Court to investigate the Vatican for crimes against humanity. According to a statement at the CCR website, the two groups filed a complaint alleging that Vatican officials systematically concealed sexual crimes perpetrated by Catholic clergy. After filing the request at the Hague, representatives from SNAP and CCR were scheduled to embarked on a tour of several major European cities. The tour was intended to encourage clergy sexual abuse victims to come forward and local diocese to turn over relevant evidence.
Founded in 1988, SNAP has long been a voice for victims of clergy sexual abuse. Through advocacy and education, SNAP has educated the public about clergy abuse and demanded accountability from perpetrators and their enablers. Furthermore, the CCR defended human rights for over four decades, pressing forward with cases on a range of human rights issues, including torture, extraordinary rendition, and environmental harm.
I commend SNAP and the CCR for taking a stand against widespread clergy sexual abuse, which has gone on for too long. While commentators at the Christian Science Monitor and Mother Jones argue that the case cannot go forward due to ICC jurisdictional limitations, the complaint is a powerful symbolic gesture nevertheless. By taking their case to the Hague, SNAP and CCR acknowledge sexual violence as a crime against humanity, reminding the Vatican that it is accountable for its people.
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Generous evidence suggests that clergy sexual abuse is very real. While some church leaders have worked diligently to address clergy abuse, other leaders have not. Documents such as the Philadelphia Report and the Cloyne Report indicate that several diocese have failed to properly report, investigate, and punish sexual abuse by clergy. The research of A. W. Richard Sipe, Thomas Doyle, and Jason Berry (to name but a few) have shed light on the ongoing clergy abuse crisis in the Catholic church. Unfortunately, one right-wing commentator is unhappy about the clergy abuse case filed in the International Criminal Court.
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, has a history of making controversial comments about the clergy abuse crisis (see here and here). Furthermore, his dislike for SNAP is nothing new (see
www[dot]catholicleague[dot]org/specialreports.php?id=36). SNAP and CCR's decision to file a complaint with the International Criminal Court did not sit well with Donohue.
In a commentary piece for Spero News, Donohue mocked CCR as a "radical left-wing organization" and claimed that SNAP's goal is not to protect children, but to smear the Catholic Church. He insisted that most cases of abuse did not involve children or rape (as if abuse of older victims or non-penetrative abuse would be somehow less horrible), and most victims are preyed upon by homosexuals. His homophobic claim ignores the fact that sexual predators, not allegedly gay priests, are the real problem.
Donohue did not cite a source for these assertions, but current research suggests otherwise. According to a May 2011 report by the John Jay College Research Team, almost three-quarters (73%) of clergy sexual abuse victims were age 14 or younger. Male children between the ages of 11 and 14 made up the largest percentage of victims (see page 10-11). Regardless of victim age, however, any sexual abuse is harmful and must be taken seriously.
Additionally, the data analyzed in the report did not support the idea that gay priests are any more likely to abuse children than heterosexual priests (see page 119). The high percentage of boy victims may be because priests have more access to male children, not because predators are necessarily gay. In other countries (i.e., Ireland), the gender ratio of clergy abuse victims can look different, perhaps because of differences in access
Donohue asserts that the "homosexual scandal" supposedly took place during the sexual revolution. In writing this, he ignores evidence that sexual scandals have plagued the Catholic church for centuries, and that the controversy is about sexual abuse, not homosexuality. He insists that most offenses ended twenty-five years ago, which would be very startling news to those who have reported clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic church since that time.
The clergy abuse crisis demands attention, and we cannot dismiss it because it makes us uncomfortable. We must realize that clergy sexual abuse is harmful, no matter what the profile of the victim or the specific acts performed. We must place the blame on perpetrators, not scapegoats. I take comfort knowing that more and more people grasp this, and I hope that Donohue someday grasps this too.
To read Donohue's commentary, visit www[dot]speroforum[dot]com/site/article.asp?idCategory=34&idsub=127&id=60216&t=SNAP+follies+at+the+International+Criminal+Court
For additional news, visit the following links.
AFP: Child abuse victims accuse pope of crimes against humanity
New York Times: Abuse Victims Ask Court to Prosecute the Vatican