Catholic Church Sex Abuse

The Roman Catholic Church is a major offender in the nationwide scandal of child sex abuse. Abusive priests misused their authority to sexually abuse children. High-ranking church officials often covered up these horrific incidents. In some cases, these cover-ups perpetuated the cycle of abuse in other parishes and dioceses.

Were You Abused by a Catholic Clergy Member?

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What Is Clergy Abuse?

Clergy abuse refers to a member of the clergy sexually abusing a minor or another non-consenting person. Allegations of clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church most often involve priests accused of abuse. For this reason, clergy abuse is often referred to as “priest abuse.”

The majority of priest abuse cases are committed against minors. Thus, they are considered acts of child sexual abuse.

How Priests Sexually Abuse Children

Priest abuse often begins with a process called “grooming.” Child predators often use this tactic to establish trust with a victim before abusing them.

As spiritual leaders, priests receive a great deal of trust from their congregation. This trust benefits predatory priests in several ways during the grooming process:

  • Identifying potential victims – As congregation leaders, priests build close relationships with their parishioners. Predators abuse these relationships and identify vulnerable youths as abuse targets.
  • Isolating victims – Parents and guardians often entrust a priest with their child’s spiritual development. A predator may use this trust to isolate a child victim under the guise of spiritual counseling or tutorship.
  • Controlling and concealing the relationship – Priests are “men of God.” Abusive priests often leverage this authority to threaten their victims with God’s displeasure. By doing so, these predators can force a victim to continue and conceal the abuse.

Sexual Abuse In The Catholic Church

Sexual abuse by clergy members has been documented in every state in the United States. The abuse allegations span multiple decades. 

Additionally, many high-ranking Church officials orchestrated cover-ups. Instead of safeguarding children, many dioceses and church officials concealed the abuse and protected the abusers.

Catholic Priest Abuse Cover-ups

Many diocesan leaders moved accused priests to different parishes rather than report the abuse to law enforcement agencies. This practice of transferring abusive priests among parishes is commonly known as “priest shuffling.” Church leaders shuffled priests and protected pedophiles over innocent child victims.

These cover-ups have led some victims to file claims against the dioceses and bishops who abused their power to protect priests.

Abused by a Diocesan Priest?

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Boston Globe Catholic Priest Scandal

Clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has been documented for centuries, going back as far as the 11th century. It has gained increased media attention in the last two decades. This is due in large part to a series published in The Boston Globe.

In 2002, The Boston Globe published its findings after a months-long investigation into Catholic Church sexual abuse cases in Boston. In a series of articles, The Boston Globe detailed decades of sexual abuse by priests in the Greater Boston parishes. Furthermore, the articles detailed how high-ranking church officials covered up the abuse.

The results of this investigation caused a public outcry. For many Americans, the series broke their long-standing trust in the Catholic Church. The series also prompted similar investigations in several other states and cities. The incredible story of The Boston Globe’s investigation also inspired the award-winning movie, Spotlight.

Priest Abuse By State

To learn more about clergy abuse in specific states, visit our individual state pages:


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