The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Around the world, clerical sex abuse takes a toll

By Brian Whitmore, Globe Correspondent and Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff, 12/14/2002

ROME - Cardinal Bernard F. Law may have been the highest-ranking church official to fall in the ongoing sex abuse scandal, but he wasn't the first.

From Canada to Australia, South Africa to Hong Kong, and across Europe from Ireland to Pope John Paul II's native Poland, clergy sex abuse cases and the ensuing cover-ups have proven to be a worldwide problem.

This past spring, three leading bishops resigned in Europe. Scores of other clergy across the globe have faced lawsuits, criminal cases, and public allegations of sexual abuse or cover-up.

''This is by no means just an American problem,'' said Colm O'Gorman, director of One In Four, a United Kingdom- and Ireland-based organization that assists sexual abuse victims. ''It is not about one man or one country, it is about an institution.''

O'Gorman, 36, was a teenage victim of sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic priest in Ireland in the early 1980s. When the church finally reacted, it was under intense public pressure with the ensuing scandal exposing deep divisions between clergy and lay Catholics.

''We've had our own troubles with this in Ireland,'' said Bridette Hayes, a 29-year-old tourist from Dublin who stopped near the Vatican amid yesterday's flurry of activity. ''And I think all those involved should be stepping down. How can the Vatican stand by while its leadership failed so miserably.''

She said she hoped Cardinal Desmond Connell of Dublin would meet the same fate as Law.

Last spring, Ireland and Poland, two predominantly Roman Catholic nations, lost prominent clergy members to sex scandals. Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Ferns in southeast Ireland resigned April 2 over allegations that he protected an accused pedophile priest, the Rev. Sean Fortune.

The church has acknowledged that Fortune molested dozens of boys, including O'Gorman, in the 1980s and 1990s. Comiskey had been informed about Fortune's behavior, but did nothing for six years, before sending him to London for psychological counseling. Fortune was later transferred to another parish, resulting in new allegations of sexual abuse.

Fortune was arrested after O'Gorman and others reported his abuse to the police in 1995, and he committed suicide in 1999 shortly before he was to stand trial. Comiskey resigned a day before a BBC documentary on Fortune's abuse and his failure to stop it was expected to air.

Since then, Connell, the leader of Ireland's 4 million Catholics, has come under intense pressure to resign over the church's handling of pedophile incidents. Connell tendered his resignation to the Vatican when he turned 75, as is required, but it has not been accepted.

Days before Comiskey's resignation, the faithful in Poland were shocked and shaken by the resignation of Juliusz Paetz, the Archbishop of Poznan, who stepped down on Holy Thursday after months of denying allegations that he had repeatedly molested seminarians. Paetz, 67, resigned in March 2002 after allegations against him surfaced in the Polish media, although he admitted no wrongdoing.

In Germany in April, Auxiliary Bishop Franziskus Eisenbach of Mainz resigned 18 months after a female university professor accused him of molesting her while performing an exorcism.

In Australia, at least 50 priests and brothers have been sentenced for sexual offenses over the past nine years. St. John of God Brothers, an Australian Roman Catholic order, agreed in June to pay $2.1 million in an out-of-court settlement to 24 mentally handicapped men who were sexually abused while in its care.

Police in Hong Kong say they are investigating allegations of child sex abuse involving Catholic priests. And In South Africa, Cardinal Wilfred Napier told the BBC earlier this year that about a dozen priests in that country have been accused of sexually abusing children.

Sennott contributed from Rome; Whitmore, from Prague. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 12/14/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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