The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the Justice Department to initiate a federal nationwide investigation into the Roman Catholic clergy’s serial sexual abuse and cover-up.
“The Church’s claim of divine authority gives it coercive power over its congregants that allows it to get away with widespread crimes,” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “Under Catholic Canon law, adherents are required to give a ‘religious submission of the intellect and will’ to their church. For millennia, the Church has used that power to suppress questions, doubts, and dissent. This leads to frequent unprosecuted crimes against child victims who are forced to remain silent by their parents under pressure from, and fear of, the Church.”
The recent 1,400-page Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing thousands of instances of sexual abuse by clergy in six of the states’ eight dioceses made major headlines. It also revealed that the Catholic Church’s secretive and imposing structure allowed hundreds of offenders to escape prosecution for decades. This systematic sexual abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church is not confined to Pennsylvania — or even to the United States. The Irish and Australian governments have conducted inquiries of their own. However, only nine states besides Pennsylvania have investigated this issue since 2002. It is time for the United States to follow the lead of states like Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Illinois — not to mention Ireland and Australia — and investigate this massive and coordinated abuse of minors throughout the country.
A federal investigation is especially fitting because the Church’s “musical chairs” history of deliberately moving offenders to new locations — shielding them from local outrage and providing them with fresh victims — creates an interstate crisis that requires federal action. Even the Catholic Church itself has admitted that this is a global problem, with Pope Francis recently referring to a “culture of abuse” inside the Church. However, the pope’s failure to provide any meaningful action to correct the problem confirms what FFRF and many victims’ rights groups have asserted for decades: The methodical, organized sexual abuse in the Catholic Church will not stop until secular authorities intervene.
To add to the problem, undue deference has not only been shown by the faithful, but all too often also by police, prosecutors and justices who have turned the other way when confronted with evidence of abuse. Compounding the cover-up is the Catholic hierarchy’s active lobbying to suppress reform of statutes of limitations in many states. The Church in New York state alone has spent close to $2 million to lobby over civil actions and to fight statute of limitations reforms.
The Department of Justice should not sit idly by while a hyperwealthy tax-exempt organization facilitates the sexual abuse of thousands of children, cites divine authority to silence victims, and works vigorously to protect both the abusers and the Church’s coffers, FFRF contends. For the sake of national safety and justice for our nation’s children, FFRF is asking Rosenstein to immediately commence an inquiry into the Catholic Church’s crimes.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country and in all 50 states. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.