Pope Francis’ recent summit on sexual abuse ended in much the same way as it began: offering reasons for hope and promising change, but failing to outline concrete policies for dealing with the issue.
Against this backdrop, investigations of priests sexually abusing minors – and the bishops who ignored or covered up their actions – are now underway in at least 16 states. Many of these got their start after an explosive grand jury report, released in August 2018, by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office. That landmark report found that over 300 priests abused at least 1,000 underage victims across more than six decades.
Spurred by these findings, similar reports have become almost common. The Illinois Attorney General’s report found that the Catholic Church in Illinois withheld the names of at least 500 priests accused of sexual abuse of minors. It concluded that the Catholic dioceses in Illinois are incapable of investigating themselves and “will not resolve the clergy sexual abuse crisis on their own.”
Recognizing Sexual Abuse of a Minor
While many of these cases occurred years or even decades ago, there are certain signs that you should look for if you suspect sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or another adult. Signs include:
- Missing or ignoring social cues about personal limits and boundaries;
- Having one or more "special" child friends;
- Encouraging secrets with minors;
- Looking for opportunities to be alone with a minor;
- Making fun of children's body parts or describing them with sexual words like “stud” or “sexy;”
- Minimizing harmful behaviors when confronted.
What to Do If You Have Been Abused
If you were abused by a priest or an adult when you were a minor, you should contact an attorney who can determine whether or not the statute of limitations on a potential claim is still in effect. If it is, you potentially can bring a claim against the abuser and, if appropriate, the institution. Even if the statute of limitations has run out, there are certain legal remedies you can pursue.
In addition, if you believe a minor is currently being sexually abused, it is essential to contact the authorities and report what you have seen or been told. Nothing is more important or precious than the safety and wellbeing of our children.