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article imageU.N. accuses U.S. of not dealing with sexual abuse by clergy

By Greta McClain     Feb 20, 2013 in Politics
The United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) issued a scathing report, accusing the United States of failing to properly deal with "sexual abuse committed by clerics and leading members of certain faith-based organizations."
Although the report was issued by UNCRC on January 25th of this year, it has received very little attention.
The report is based on a five year review of protocols used by various United States federal, state and local government agencies. It looks at a variety of issues, including investigations into reports of sexual assault by members of the clergy, particularly those involving the Roman Catholic Church. The UN report also looked at evidence provided by the British National Secular Society (NSS), a non-profit organization that promotes a separation of religion and state and believes in religious freedom and human rights for people of all faiths.
The UNCRC report notes there has been a "lack of progress" by U.S. law enforcement agencies to centralize data involving the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography, as well as a lack of research and evidence-based policy and program analysis about the root cause of such crimes. It also praises the U.S. for new initiatives and laws such as the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008, which is aimed at increasing resources for regional computer forensic labs and increasing the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute child predators.
Members of the UNCRC expressed concern regarding the investigation and prosecution of cases involving members of the clergy, saying:
The Committee is deeply concerned at information of sexual abuse committed by clerics and leading members of certain faith-based organizations and religious institutions on a massive and long-term scale amounting to sexual slavery or servitude of children and about the lack of measures taken by the State party to properly investigate cases and prosecute those accused who are members of those organizations and institutions.
The UNCRC strongly suggests the United States takes steps to rectify the issue, saying:
The Committee urges the State party to take all the necessary measures to investigate all cases of sexual abuse of children whether single or on a massive and long-term scale, committed by clerics, to issue clear instructions to all relevant authorities to actively prosecute those cases and to engage in a dialogue with faith-based organizations religious institutions and their leaders, in order to enlist their active and open collaboration to prevent, investigate and prosecute cases. The State party should also draw the attention of law enforcement authorities to the sanctions that may be imposed on them in case of inaction and/or corruption.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of NSS, specifically points to cases involving the Catholic Church as well, noting that the Catholic Church has paid out more than $2 billion to abuse victims in the United States. While the church has admitted to abuse and made financial compensations to victims, very few of the priests involved have been held criminally liable for the abuse.
In February of last year, experts speaking at the Vatican summit said the American church has spent a minimum of $2.2 billion settling litigation related to sexual abuse claims, and that an estimated 100,000 victims have been sexually abused by Catholic priests.
The John Jay Study, a study commissioned by the U.S. bishops' National Review Board, said the Catholic church focused on "getting help for the priest-abusers" during the mid-1980s, and that despite a plan developed in the mid-1990s that was geared towards responding to the needs of the victims of sexual abuse, implementation of the plan was not consistent.
When discussing the magnitude of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and the UNCRC report's claim that the United States has not adequately addressed the issue, Wood says:
"Very few clerical perpetrators have been convicted and only one official has been convicted for facilitating the abuse. Hundreds, if not thousands, of clerics have wrongly escaped justice due to the continuing secrecy of the Church and the issue being almost ignored by law enforcers. I hope they [law enforcement officials] take to heart the UN's stinging criticism, where they mention "inaction and/or corruption"."
Wood readily admits that sexual abuse by members of the clergy is not limited to the Catholic Church, but says the magnitude of the abuse within the church is by far greater than that in any other denomination.
Despite the publicity and an outpouring of criticism from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, some in the church continue to try and ignore the problem, or place blame elsewhere. In August of 2012, Digital Journal reported that Father Benedict Groeschel, founder of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, blamed the child victims for the abuse, calling them the "seducers". He continued by saying:
"[I am] inclined to think that priests who were first-time abusers should not be jailed because their intention was not committing a crime."
Officials from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal excused Groeschel's comments, claiming medical incompetency. Groeschel was never formally reprimanded or disciplined for his remarks.
Earlier this week, Digital Journal also reported that the leader of the Catholic order known as the Legion of Christ had been accused of sexual abuse and misconduct for decades, but he was never charged or prosecuted for his crimes.
A Reuters report points to the case of Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the archdiocese of Los Angeles. Accusations that Mahony sent accused abusers to Catholic parishes in other states in order to avoid prosecution have been ongoing for nearly two decades. However, it was not until January of this year that the archdiocese was forced to release 12,000 pages of files regarding the case against Mahony to a California court. On Friday, the court only ordered Mahony to submit to a deposition after a deal was brokered behind closed doors by a Los Angeles judge and the attorneys for the archdiocese.
Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law was also the subject of a sexual abuse scandal, accused of covering up numerous cases of sexual abuse by priests in his diocese. He resigned his post in 2002, but was then appointed as Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome by Pope Paul II. Law was never charged with a crime by U.S. law enforcement officials.
Investigations which take decades to conduct and never lead to arrests or convictions are only part of what led the UNCRC to its conclusions. Cases of known abuse that are never investigated, along with cases of widespread cover-ups that are largely ignored by law enforcement officials and prosecutors have also led to the report's conclusions. Whether the report prompts federal, state and local agencies to be more diligent in their investigations of sexual abuse allegations involving Catholic priests remains to be seen. What is clear is that organizations and citizens throughout the world have grown tired of the continued abuse and subsequent cover-ups. It is also clear that many will no longer stand and idly watch as the abuse continues, instead demanding that those involved in such crimes be held responsible for their actions.
More about United States, United Nations, Sexual abuse, Sex crimes, Priests
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