The Global Scale of Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

The Global Scale of Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has been repeatedly rocked by child sexual abuse scandals over the past three decades.
An independent investigation said on Tuesday it had concluded that there had been around 216,000 victims of sexual abuse by clergy in the French Catholic Church between 1950 and 2020.

It is the latest in a series of landmark reports and investigations that have helped lift the “veil of silence” around the crimes.


After a series of scandals, in 2013 the Australian government set up a Royal Commission, a high-level inquiry into institutional child sexual abuse.

The commission said in February 2017 that most of the abuse took place in churches, with seven percent of Catholic priests accused of abusing children in Australia between 1950 and 2010. It said the allegations did not almost never investigated.

He found that 4,444 suspected incidents of child sexual abuse had been reported to Church authorities. In some dioceses, more than 15 percent of priests were guilty.

The commission also heard testimony from former Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell, who was convicted in 2018 of sexually abusing altar boys in Melbourne in the 1990s.

Pell – who had been Pope Francis’ anti-corruption czar – was released from prison in 2020 after a court overturned his conviction.


In June, Pope Francis rejected German Bishop Reinhard Marx’s offer to step down due to the Church’s “institutional and systemic failure” in dealing with child sexual abuse in the western city of Cologne.

He revealed that 314 minors, mostly boys under the age of 14, were sexually assaulted there between 1975 and 2018.

A study by the German Bishops’ Conference in 2018 previously revealed widespread sexual abuse by German clergy.

He revealed that 1,670 clergymen had committed some sort of sexual assault against 3,677 minors, mostly boys under the age of 13, between 1946 and 2014, while claiming it was almost certainly ‘an underestimation.

Most of the perpetrators have not been punished and the church provides compensation on a case-by-case basis, without transparency.

United States

In 2002, the Boston Globe revealed the massive scale of child sexual abuse in the Diocese of Boston and the efforts of the Catholic hierarchy to cover it up. The newspaper’s investigation was the subject of the Oscar-winning film Spotlight.

In 2004, a church commission released a report demanding that the clergy report suspicions of sexual assault.

According to lawyers, more than 11,000 complaints have been filed in the United States by victims of priests. The dioceses have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in out-of-court settlements.

Victims’ associations say the payments allow the church to escape justice.

A 2018 grand jury investigation of the dioceses of Pennsylvania revealed the church’s systematic cover-up of abuses by “more than 300 predatory priests.” More than 1,000 child victims have been cited.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, accused of concealment, has resigned.

In 2019, Pope Francis defrocked former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a first for the church.

Several dioceses have since opened their archives, revealing that hundreds of priests had been suspected of abusing minors.


Charges of large-scale sex crimes in Irish Catholic institutions date back decades, with the number of underage victims estimated at nearly 15,000 between 1970 and 1990 alone. Several bishops and priests accused of covering up abuses have been punished.

The official Ryan Commission report in 2009 revealed widespread abuse of children in Catholic-run institutions between the 1930s and 1970s.

He said church-run orphanages and industrial schools were places of rampant sexual fear, neglect and abuse.

The 2009 Murphy Report on the Archdiocese of Dublin indicated that between 1975 and 2004, the Church “obsessively” covered up the abuses.

And after another very critical report in 2011 on the Diocese of Cloyne, the Vatican recalled its ambassador after the then Irish prime minister accused him of obstructing investigations into sexual abuse by priests.


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