It was in the 1950s the first reports of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church came out. But they were isolated cases, dealt with in secret, behind cloister walls.
In the ’80s and ’90s, the US and France particularly were rocked by a series of cases of abuse. But it would not be until 2009 and the publication of two reports in Ireland before the Vatican would react and its wall of silence would be breached.
An inquiry by Judge Sean Ryan revealed that hundreds of children were subjected to all kinds of abuse in Irish religious institutions during the 1940s.
Shortly after, an investigation by Judge Yvonne Murphy uncovered almost 50 cases of abuse by priests between 1975 and 2004.
Hundreds of children, belonging to different dioceses around Dublin, were assaulted by their parish priests.
The Primate of all Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, is accused of having turned a blind eye to what was going on, in particular of having covered up for the paedophile priest Brendan Smyth for 40 years. An estimated 15,000 Irish children may have been targeted during this time.
In the wake of the Irish scandal, Germany has also been rocked by revelations of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. In January 2010, religious authorities across dozens of dioceses began to lift the veil of secrecy on hundreds of sex attacks carried out in the ’70s and ’80s in church schools.
Pope Benedict XVI and his brother Georg were indirectly connected with the scandal at the Ettal monastery in Bavaria, and the Regensburg youth choir.
Austria’s turn came in March, when the Catholic institutions were held to account for cases of abuse dating back to the ’70s and ’80s. The country was in shock and there were several protests.
Bruno Becker, the head of the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter in Salzburg, resigned on March 8, 2010. He publicly admitted having abused a child in 1969.
Hundreds of cases have been reported since.
The same has happened in Switzerland, Italy and in Malta, which Pope Benedict visited last weekend. During his trip, the pontiff met some of the victims of Catholic clerical abuse. This was the first public acknowledgement of the problem by the head of the Catholic Church.