The horrific history of the Catholic Church’s sex scandals.

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The horrific history of the Catholic Church’s sex scandals.

Accusations against priests have been levelled across the world with the Vatican saying at least 3,400 credible cases were referred to it between 2004 and 2014.

Years and billions of dollars later the full scale of the abuse around the world is not yet known, and the full extent may never be revealed.

Along with the allegations of abuse, cover-ups are also said to have been commonplace amongst the clergy.

But some countries have gone to extraordinary lengths to uncover the crimes committed by men of the cloth.

The Sun looks at just some of the harrowing figures and facts that surround this deeply troubling story of abuse by those who children trusted were doing the work of God.


Abuse by Catholic priests first reared its ugly head in the USA to the public in Louisiana in 1985.

The Rev. Gilbert Gauthe pleaded guilty to 11 counts of molesting boys, shocking the country.

It became clear he had been abusing kids for decades and he would eventually confess to a psychologist to abusing more than 300 children. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

This case and several books in the 1990s served to raise some awareness of the case but the true extent of the problem would not be revealed until 2002.

That year the Boston Globe published an exhaustive list of abuse that had taken place in the Boston area, an event captured in the Oscar winning film Spotlight.

This prompted victims to come forward and more and more lawsuits filed against various Catholic dioceses across the country.

Reports of priests being shuttled around parishes after rumours and accusations of abuse surfaced prompting allegations of a high level cover up within the church.

In 2004 a report from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice was published, detailing graphically the scale of abuse from diocese that volunteered information.

The Jay Report stated there were around 10,667 reported victims who had been abused by 4,392 priests between 1950 and 2002 in the US.

That number of priests amounted to around 4 per cent of the 109,694 active in the ministry during that time.

Around 81 per cent of the victims were male.

As of 2007 the Associated Press estimated the church had paid out over $2billion in the US alone in settlements to victims.

Michael Bemi and Pat Neal, leaders of a Catholic anti-abuse programme said in 2012: “The John Jay study identified 10,667 victim allegations made in the period from 1950-2002, which number increased to 15,235 employing data through 2009.

“In that it is a well-known and accepted phenomenon that many victims of sexual assault never report their victimisation, some observers have estimated that there may be as many as 100,000 total victims in the United States alone.”


Like the United States the land Down Under has also been rocked by a series of sex abuse charges against members of the clergy.

Most recently Pope Francis’ ally Cardinal George Pell has been accused of a string of historical offences in the country.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney issued a statement on behalf of Pell, saying he “strenuously denied all allegations” and would return to Australia to clear his name.

But even before this most recent scandal the scale of the abuse in Australia was known to be vast

A total of 4,444 children were confirmed to have been subjected to sex abuse at the hands of catholic priests.

A Royal Commission investigating institutional abuse found that between 1950 and 2015 seven per cent of Australian priests had been accused of molesting children.

The average age of those abused was revealed to be between ten and 11-years-old.

In one of the worst cases Father Michael Glennon was convicted of sexually abusing 15 children in court cases spanning 25 years.

These numbers were revealed seven years after Pope Benedict addressed a congregation of 3,400 in Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral apologising for the abuse.

He said: “”Here I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country.

“I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering. … Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice.

“These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. I ask all of you to support and assist your bishops, and to work together with them in combating this evil.

“It is an urgent priority to promote a safer and more wholesome environment, especially for young people.”


In the heavily Catholic country of Ireland several reports detailing the emotional, physical and sexual abuse of hundreds of children have been published.

Criminal cases began to surface in the 1990s prompting the reports which reported “tens of thousands of children from the 1940s-1990s” had suffered abuse at the hands of priests, nuns and church staff.

On many occasions, as in the USA and Australia, it was revealed priests accused of abuse had been moved to other parishes.

The reports also revealed that the country’s “Catholic ethos” made prosecuting clergy members extremely difficult.

Abuse allegations were levelled at all ranks from priests to Archbishops.

Earlier this year the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland apologised for the abuse of children in church run homes.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said: “I apologise unreservedly to all those who suffered from their experience in church-run institutions, and to their loved ones.

“They have given details for all to see of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Their story is one of anxiety, isolation and pain.

“It is totally understandable that those abused may find it hard to forgive or find reconciliation with the church.

“But we in the church must do everything we can to submit to the demands of justice and demonstrate that we are serious about making reparation for the sins and crimes of the past.”


More than a decade before the Spotlight story rocked the world, Canada had already been aware of abuse by Catholic clergy.

By 1993 Canadian media had already reported more than 100 Canadian Catholic priests had been charged or convicted of sex crimes.

Much of the investigation in Canada centred on the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St John’s, Newfoundland.

Eventually more than 300 former pupils came forward with allegations of abuse at the orphanage.

The religious order which ran the home filed for bankruptcy following numerous lawsuits against it seeking damages.

A number of priests in Canada have been investigated following the Mount Cashel scandal.

The rest of the world

Along with the countries already mentioned many others have had allegations made against Catholic clergy members.

In Europe Belgium and Germany both reported more than 300 alleged cases taking place.

The UK has also seen allegations made as well as Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Spain to name a few.

Further afield allegations have surfaced in New Zealand, the Philippines, India, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico.

The Vatican’s response

Following his election in 2013 Pope Francis has called for action on sex abuse in the Church.

Under his papacy, a Vatican committee has been set up to fight sexual abuse and help the victims.

Vatican Radio reported the Pope asked for forgiveness for the “evil” damage to children caused by sexual abusers in the clergy and said “sanctions” would be imposed.

Vatican officials submitted publicly to questioning for the first time in January 2013, before a UN panel in Geneva, but refused to supply data on abuse cases.

Benedict XVI, Francis’s predecessor was accused of suppressing investigations into paedophile priests, a charge he strenuously denied.

Following the first scandals in 2001, the Holy See issued guidelines for senior clergy on how to handle paedophile priests, which stated that all cases should be referred to Rome.

Until then, all cases had been handled by the Church in the country affected.

In the wake of a raft of new cases in 2010, the Vatican issued new rules saying bishops should report suspected cases of abuse to local police, if required to do so by law.