“Someone should have heard the screams...” is the title of a French documentary by Paul Moreira that was broadcast on Public Television. It is an expose of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, but more than that it reveals the lengths to which the Church goes to cover up the criminal sexual predation of its clergy. The film documents several cases of rape and sodomy by priests who had children in their care, mostly in the USA and France. In the 1990’s people began to come forward and complain about how they were treated as children, but the Church basically ignored them. So they began to band together in self-help groups and also to seek legal redress.
One such group is SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. It was founded in 1988 by Barbara Blaine in Toledo, Ohio, after years of depression and shame from the abuse she suffered at the hands of a priest in 8th grade in a Catholic school. She went to Toledo’s Bishop with her story and was ignored. Soon a group of people got together and held a meeting in Chicago. Now they have their National Office there and have thousands of members. They have a computerised list of 4,600 abusive priests and higher clergy throughout the USA!
The film dwells on why the Church ignores these complaints and helps the abusers. The answer is simple, the Church basically protects those who had taken an oath as a priest and if they transgress they are investigated by the Church internally under Canon law. For each case a file is opened and if the transgression is found to be not so extreme, the priest is transferred to another parish or another function. Little care if any was taken to try to prevent further child abuse. The situation changed in 2010 when Pope John-Paul II admitted on the plane returning from a trip to the USA where there had been large demonstrations by crowds denouncing the Church practice of protecting child abusers, that in future the Church would investigate these reports more thoroughly and would put a stop to these practices.
Here I diverge from the documentary to point out several grievous examples of abuse that were not mentioned in the film. In Quebec City, Canada, priests at a large Catholic school were found to have engaged in systematic sexual abuse of boys from the 1960’s onwards. Eventually several survivors came forward and brought a court case against the Church. They won millions of dollars in a settlement. Another similar case was the so-called Magdalene sisters in Ireland, made up of girls who were either aggressive or promiscuous. They were housed in large convents throughout Ireland and basically worked as slaves without pay for the Catholic Church, doing laundry under appalling conditions with little rest. They were also abused, and mistreated if they complained. Over a period of 70 years some 10,000 girls were mistreated in this way. This story was dramatised in the movie entitled “The Magdalene Sisters” in 2002.
In the documentary, the case of a priest was described who abused many young indigenous Inuit boys in Canada who were under his care. When his activities were discovered, he escaped from the authorities (probably helped by fellow priests) and disappeared. An Interpol warrant was issued for his arrest. A Belgian woman who herself was abused by priests, was informed of his whereabouts, hiding in a religious house in a village outside Brussels, Belgium. The cameras went to locate him and indeed he was hiding in the house, he spoke to the interviewer, but when questions were asked about his abuse, he told them to leave. According to the Church he has been banned from participating in services, but photos were shown of him participating in a Mass.
Now under Pope Benedict XVI the Church officially views these cases with greater severity. Indeed it has cost the Church billions of dollars in various countries, USA, Canada, Britain, Ireland, France, Italy, Australia, and so on, for settlements of cases brought against them due to priestly abuse. But, the fundamental problem is that the Church tries to treat these cases as an internal matter, while it is in fact a criminal matter subject to civil law. The Church has files on all these cases but refuses to release them, so that proper criminal proceedings can take place. In effect, the Church is protecting the criminals from justice. The Pope and his spokesmen have talked about transparency, but it has not been forthcoming. Protecting or hiding a known fugitive or criminal is in itself an actionable offence.