An exhaustive investigation into the Roman Catholic Church in Switzerland has unearthed close to a thousand instances of sexual abuse extending back to 1950. Predominantly, the cases involved minors with 56% of the victims being male. The allegations pointed overwhelmingly to men as the perpetrators.
The inquiry, spearheaded by researchers from the University of Zurich, also exposed a pervasive scheme to conceal these crimes. The investigators candidly affirmed that these acknowledged cases of abuse form only a mere fraction of the real magnitude of the issue. Researchers Monika Dommann and Marietta Meier, who led the year-long investigation commissioned by the Church, suspect many more unimaginable cases are yet to come to light since numerous other documents have yet to be accessed.
In addition to scrutinizing the Church’s archives, the researchers conducted interviews with a range of individuals, including those impacted by the abuse. However, the investigatory path was filled with obstacles as evidence of purged records at two dioceses emerged and many reported instances of sexual abuse had never been documented or subsequently archived.
Substantiating this concern, the researchers stated, “Given what we know from research on the dark figure of crime, we assume that only a small percentage of cases was ever reported in the first place.” An astonishing majority of the identified cases occurred when the victims were engaged in church-endorsed activities such as confession, altar service, and religious education in children’s societies.
Out of these cases, another shocking 30% happened within institutions under the Church’s control, namely, Catholic children’s homes, day schools, and boarding schools.
The report was not solely intended to expose instances of abuse; it also closely examined the Church’s response to these heinous crimes. Disturbingly, it was found that many of these transgressions were ‘kept secret, covered up or trivialised.’ This gross disregard for the victims and their wellbeing extended to those at the highest levels of Church hierarchy, including the bishops, who failed to help the affected individuals.
Even more distressingly, accused clerics were systematically reassigned to different locations, sometimes even abroad, to evade prosecution. The welfare and safety of the parishioners were subordinated to the self-interest of the Church.
This deeply entrenched attitude only began to shift in the 21st century, amid a wave of sex abuse scandals. Offering their response, the groups representing sexual abuse victims asserted, “For decades, the authorities of the Catholic Church in Switzerland have covered up these crimes, protecting the perpetrators and the reputation of their institution at the expense of the victims who were silenced.”
In an attempt to acknowledge the shocking discovery, the president of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference admitted during a press conference that the Church had indeed depended on countless excuses and their actions had fallen short of what the victims deserved.
As the investigation continues, the Church authorities have committed to funding a follow-up project by the University of Zurich, set to commence in 2024.