Sexual Assault Charges Plague Catholic Church

Recently, a report originating from Pennsylvania has uncovered decades of sexual abuse, committed by hundreds of clergymen and only now revealed to the public.

Kayla Alcorcha and Celeste Chavez

What may usually be sought out as a safe haven has recently resurfaced as a mysterious institution that has seeped darkness and suffering into many of its followers within the past 70 or more years. Throughout the course of history, the Catholic church has been tainted by the revelations of numerous sexual abuse cases but on August 14, one of the largest cases in the United States was uncovered. Over 1,000 children were hurt in the span of 70 years by more than 300 priests. Each of these cases took place in Pennsylvania within the six related dioceses.

This report was made public by Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania Attorney General, after a two-year investigation was conducted; it contained graphic examples of children being sexually abused by clergymen within the church. The report was largely based on secret documents kept hidden by the dioceses which also included confessions by priests. These cases compiled the most comprehensive and extensive report on Catholic clergy sexual abuse in American history coming two decades after the abuse and subsequent cover-up efforts in Boston. This notorious case further deteriorated the reputation and image of the Roman Catholic church. Up until now, the systematic cycle of abuse, denial, and cover-up has proven to be effective for the abusers. Catholic bishops have consistently hid child sexual abuse and reassigned priests to different parishes in order to avoid conflict. Father Ramon Pons of the St. Vincent De Paul parish in Petaluma recalls the leeway that bishops were given in relation to their responsibilities and authority.

“There were other rules about priests and people involved in the community, [like] school teachers, too, because of Catholic school, but there was nothing about bishops. Bishops are the bosses for the whole diocese. There was no accountability for them and there were no guidelines. It was reported that there were bishops who knew the problem and this is one of the biggest betrayals that a person can suffer,¨ said Pons.

For a community bound by faith and truth, the cover-ups occurring within the Catholic Church are severe transgressions. Father Pons began to recount an event that occurred near the Petaluma community, though the crimes of the ex-priest were eventually uncovered,

“There was a case years ago in Sonoma. Father Francisco Xavier Ochoa was convicted of sexual abuse and fled to Mexico. It was a betrayal for the Spanish community because they saw him as a hero,” said Pons. Ochoa was wanted for the abuse of ten children since 2006, and although he died in Mexico a year later, the heinous crimes have not been forgotten. Evidently, the assault cases are not limited to the East Coast.

 Sophomore Julia Dietlin shared her opinions on this exposure,

 “I think it’s very inappropriate for somebody who believes in God to do these things…I think that they [the priests] are definitely abusing their position of power…Priests should stand for what’s good and what God has done for everyone,” said Dietlin.

 The current statute of limitations in Pennsylvania allows child victims of sexual abuse to press criminal charges against an offender until they are 50 years old and decide to file lawsuits until they are 30 years old; however, state lawmakers are currently debating whether to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations and extend the time available for filing lawsuits. This has the potential to be executed through SB 261, a bill in the House of Representatives, which would eliminate the time restriction for prosecutions and move the lawsuit limit until age 50. Although, a U.S. Supreme Court precedent does not allow extending criminal liability beyond the expiration of the statute of limitations, so any victims 51 or older could not seek criminal charges. Pennsylvania State representative Mark Rozzi has shared his personal clergy sexual abuse story and has made efforts to amend the bill to create a two-year time frame in which any victim of child sex abuse could sue the offender, disregarding the time passed since the crime was committed.

 The future of criminal liabilities continues to lie within the hands of the federal government. While the Pennsylvania report has revealed decades of abuse, there is a possibility that much still remains hidden within the Catholic Church. Whether the Catholic church will continue to be a sanctuary or let itself be plagued by suspicion and mistrust forever, is still to be determined.