The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the U.S. Justice Department to initiate a 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 Attorney General Merrick Garland. “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.”
Twenty-one states, as well as Washington, D.C., have investigated or are launching investigations of these crimes since 2002. Most recently, FFRF’s home state of Wisconsin announced its own investigation following a survivor’s suicide after the church reportedly stopped paying for his medication and therapy following years of abuse.
It is time, FFRF noted, for the U.S. government 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.
FFRF cites the widely covered 1,400-page Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing thousands of instances of sexual abuse by clergy in six of the state's eight dioceses published in 2018 as evidence that the Catholic Church’s secretive and imposing structure allowed hundreds of offenders to escape prosecution for decades.
A federal investigation is in order 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 having referred 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 Church hierarchy’s active lobbying to suppress reform of statutes of limitations in many states. In New York state alone, the Church has spent close to $2 million to lobby over civil actions and to fight statute of limitations reforms.
FFRF asks that the Justice Department not sit 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. For the sake of national safety and justice for our nation’s children, FFRF is urging Garland to immediately commence an inquiry into the Catholic Church’s crimes.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison-based national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members and several chapters across the country. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.