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Preying On Children: A Widening Scandal Over Priest Pedophilia Shakes the Foundations of Thecatholic Church

StoryMarch 21, 2002
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The foundations of the U.S. Catholic Church has been rocked by a widening controversy over the sexual abuse ofchildren by priest, and of the systemic pattern of cover-up and protection by their superiors. It is a nationalcontroversy that many believe will seriously undermine the moral authority of the Church.

One in 11 US Catholics say they have "personal knowledge" of child sex abuse by a priest, according to the firstnational survey of Roman Catholic opinion since revelations of sex abuse cases began sweeping the country thiswinter.

Victims point to a wave of egregious abusers, such as John Geoghan, the former Boston priest accused of molestingmore than 130 children. As the scandal unfolded, Boston Cardinal Bernard Law acknowledged transferring Geoghanbetween parishes after learning of the abuse allegations. Under pressure after the revelations, Cardinal Lawinstituted a new policy of "zero tolerance" for pedophilia among priests and turned over the names of more than 80clerics accused of pedophilia in the last 50 years.

Last week, the Archdiocese agreed to pay up to $30 million to 86 people who accused Geoghan of child molestation, ina highly publicized group of lawsuits that helped foment a national crisis in the Catholic Church. But still, scoresof alleged victims continue to surface.

Yesterday Pope John Paul made his first comment on the wave of Church pedophilia scandals, writing that he wasprofoundly hurt by Roman Catholic priests involved in what he called "the most grievous form" of evil. Partly inresponse to the recent scandals, a Vatican department is preparing a document on "psychological profiling" to blockmen who have potential "sexual problems" from entering the priesthood.

Even President Bush weighed in on the scandal yesterday, saying he was confident the Church would "clean up itsbusiness and do the right thing." But not many believe it is going to be that easy.


  • Eugene Kennedy, author of "The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality". He was commissioned by theNational Council of Catholic Bishops in the early 70s to coordinate a psychological study of the American CatholicPriesthood. When his study led to conclusions contrary to those that were hoped for, the study was not given officialapproval.
  • Reverend Pat Bumgradner, pastor at Metropolitan Community Church in New York. The organization is thelargest queer organization in the world.
  • Sheila Daley, co-director, Call to Action, an organization of Catholics working for reform in the CatholicChurch.

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