April Awareness: Bringing the Issue of Clergy Abuse into the Spotlight

A Pennsylvania grand jury will soon conclude hearing testimony about sexual abuse by priests in six Catholic dioceses in the state. A report is expected to be released in May.

Former Attorney General Kathleen Kane launched the statewide probe after an investigation into one diocese found that hundreds of children were abused by at least 50 Church leaders, dating back as far as 1944. Allegations ranged from providing pornography to minors to sexually assaulting children. Included in the list of offenders is a former bishop accused of failing to stop the abuse that was reported to him, thus revealing a troubled history of diocesan superiors concealing cases to protect the Church’s image.

The Buffalo Diocese recently released the names of priests who were removed, left the ministry, or retired after being accused of sexual abuse. The Erie Diocese has announced it will be doing the same. This is an important step not only for victims of abuse, but also in raising public awareness. Erie also said it is streamlining how abuse allegations are handled and increasing the clearances employees or volunteers need to work with children. It is unknown whether other dioceses will follow suit.

The scope of the investigation report could propel Pennsylvania in the direction of Australia, where the abuse hearing against Cardinal George Pell is underway. Cardinal George Pell, one of the most senior members of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis’ chief financial adviser, has been charged with multiple sexual assault offenses. A further hearing of his case is scheduled for April 17.

Why does it take years for such cases to surface? Why do so many go unreported? Many victims are afraid to come forward about their abuse. They think they will be blamed or no one will believe them. They will keep quiet out of fear or because the abuser is someone close to them. Also, who wants to share such traumatic information, even with family members, let alone the public?

An estimated 67 percent of all sexual assault victims are under the age of 18, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. One-third of these victims are under the age of twelve, and one in seven cases involve children under six. Ninety percent of the time, the perpetrator is someone the child has a relationship with – relative, babysitter, caregiver, coach, teacher, or priest.

The more we know about sexual assault and the impact that it has on us and our community, the easier is to talk not only talk about it and take steps to prevent it.

Nationally, every April is designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This years’ theme is “Embrace Your Voice.” It seems fitting, given recent events and the “Me Too” movement that sent shock waves nationwide, as hundreds of people spoke out about their experiences. It has sparked long overdue conversations. Yet, it is still not enough. Sexual assault affects everyone—survivors, family, friends, loved ones. We all have a role in raising awareness; we must all use our voice to support the movement and end sexual assault until no one has to say “Me Too.”

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