John Paul II’s Canonization vs. the Victims of Sexual Abuse

by Patrick Perion

Patrick Perion is a child abuse investigator in Illinois.

* Trigger Warning

Last week, a young man in the village of Cevo, Italy was crushed when a giant crucifix that honored John Paul II fell over. John Paul was the leader of the Catholic Church for 27 years. The sexual abuse of children and the legacy of cover-ups and inaction that happened on his watch crushed uncounted thousands.

I was raised Catholic and attended Catholic Schools. I went to a Catholic university, and among other things, I took 25 hours of Theology; not quite enough for a major, but more than a lot of people. I also majored in Psychology and through a somewhat winding path, ended up spending the last 20 years investigating child abuse.

Working with survivors of sexual abuse, talking to children about the abuse they suffered is no easy task. It’s even more difficult when the abuser is a member of the clergy in any religion. If the abuser is a priest, it is almost impossible to get justice for the victim.

John Paul II was the Pope during the horrific priest sexual abuse scandals that were made public in the 90’s and into the early 2000’s.  He was aware of the scandal and was made aware of priests who were multiple time offenders.  Yet nothing was done until 2001 when he directed Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict, to deal with the scandal.

Many say that much of the abuse happened before John Paul was Pope, yet saying that John Paul is somehow absolved because people were abused 20-30 years before making complaints is the same thing as saying Joe Paterno should be absolved of the scorn and derision he has received.

In fact, the Catholic Priest sex abuse scandal is Penn State writ large.  An open secret known to many, if not all, in power.  Those in power turned a blind eye to the abuse.  Many more children were victimized as a result of institutional inaction.  The comparisons can go on right on to the current leaders of both Penn State and the Church gamely trying to move on and refocus on the healing of the victims.

I know a few adult survivors of sexual abuse by priests. Some I have met through my job, two I know from elsewhere and they confided in me in confidence.  What they all have in common is that they were abused after John Paul II was made Pope; some disclosed and some did not.

We know that Cardinals all over the United States from Los Angeles to Chicago to Boston were actively covering up sexual abuse by priests in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s.  To say most of this happened before he was Pope is naive at best and an outright obfuscation at worst.  Due to the stigma attached to victims when they disclose, there’s a great possibility that there are thousands up thousands of victims worldwide that we’ll never know about.

Another thing that can be said with absolute certainty is that the abuse of children by priests is still going on.

The priests may face punishment sooner than in the past, but that hasn’t stopped the behavior.  The same forces that kept victims silent 30 years ago, are still in play today.  Priests who abuse are no different than anyone else who abuses.

On April, 27, the Catholic Church made two men saints.

One man modernized the Church in the 1960’s. The other turned a blind eye to the most egregious case of wide spread, institutional sexual abuse of children in recorded history.  Making John Paul II a saint is a slap in the face of people who were sexually abused by priests.

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