The List

The Catholic Church’s Latest Abuse Scandals

FP's guide to the Vatican's spiraling crisis.

A series of explosive child sex abuse scandals has hit Western Europe in recent months, sending the Catholic Church into damage-control mode. While such scandals have become depressingly frequent since major allegations came out in the United States in 2002, the latest charges have been particularly damaging, implicating senior members of the Vatican hierarchy, including Pope Benedict XVI himself, and coming at a time when the church is already losing popularity on its home turf.


The scandal: Serious accusations have rocked the Irish church since the U.S. scandal broke. But it was not until the middle of last year -- when a government report detailing Irish clergy child abuse was released -- that the extent of the problem was entirely clear. The report alleged 2,000 cases of abuse over a 60-year period. A second government investigation, released by the Irish government in November 2009, fanned the flames by revealing the collusion of Irish police in systematically covering up cases of child abuse by Dublin clergymen. For Ireland, this is only the latest part of the clergy abuse saga -- the Associated Press reports that since the mid-1990s there have been nearly 15,000 complaints leveled against the church -- with legal claims topping $1.5 billion.

The church's response: The archbishop of Dublin responded swiftly to the latest report, saying on Nov. 26, "No words of apology will ever be sufficient," and "The report highlights devastating failings of the past." The Irish police commissioner also expressed his regret in the police force's role. The Vatican, however, was less effective. In September 2009, a Vatican official responded to growing criticism by defending the clergy's action, citing statistics that showed only 1.5 to 5 percent of clergy have been involved in cases of child sex abuse -- a leaky argument that acknowledges sexual abuse by up to 20,000 priests worldwide.

This February, the pope finally personally addressed the issue by summoning 24 Irish bishops to the Vatican to discuss the by-then highly publicized scandal. He also vowed to pen a "clear and decisive" letter addressed to Irish Catholic constituents that would outline definitive steps the church would take to protect children from further abuse. Four bishops have resigned in the reports' wake, but others have complained of unfair treatment by the Irish press, pointing out that journalists have focused on the church even though problems of abuse are societywide.


The scandal: In late February, a Dutch radio station and newspaper broke the story of alleged abuse in Dutch Catholic boarding schools in the 1960s and 70s. The last Catholic boarding school may have closed in 1981, but victims have not forgotten their traumatic experiences. Once again, the trickle of a few lone voices surged into a torrent -- nearly 200 allegations surfaced in the weeks following the radio program. Victims told stories of priests who shamed them into thinking they had done something wrong, which accounted for their silence. Even when accusations were leveled, priests tended to brush off evidence.

The church's response: The Dutch church was quick to offer an apology to victims of abuse and on March 9 ordered an investigation into any claims. The Vatican, perhaps learning from its PR mistakes in the case of Ireland, highlighted the timely Dutch response as a demonstration of the church's transparency in dealing with child abuse. The Vatican also credited church officials for speeding up the process by encouraging victims to step forward. Critics have shot back, saying such investigations are "a typical Vatican coverup" and that the church has done little to systematically deal with the problem.


The scandal: In early March, the head of a Benedictine monastery in Salzburg confessed to sexually abusing a child more than 40 years ago, before he was ordained. His offer to resign was immediately accepted. A few days later it was reported that another priest in southeast Austria was suspected of having abused approximately 20 children in his parish. Anonymous accusations of abuse at a boarding school at Mehrerau Abbey have also been confirmed and allegations of abuse within the world-famous Vienna Boys' Choir have also surfaced.

The church's response: On March 11, two Austrian archbishops made international headlines when they separately questioned, in a Catholic magazine and during a television interview, whether the church's tradition of celibacy had increased the likelihood of abuse. They stopped short of blaming celibacy for the Roman Catholic Church's growing record of abuse, saying that if celibacy were the principal cause, pedophilia would not exist elsewhere in society. The next day, the Vatican shot down a discussion of celibacy when the pope stated that the tradition would not fall to "passing cultural fashions."


The scandal: The latest and most salient crisis is now taking place in Germany, where allegations of abuse have surfaced this year for the first time. At least 300 cases of abuse have emerged, and elite Jesuit boarding schools across the country have been accused of mistreating pupils. Eighteen of the 27 German archdioceses are now being investigated for child abuse while the German Justice Ministry says that Vatican secrecy has hampered investigations for the past decade.

Such explosive accusations are a direct attack on Pope Benedict himself, who has been criticized for sending a confidential letter in 2001 to every Roman Catholic bishop, advising them to keep allegations of sexual abuse secret for at least 10 years. The letter went on to say that investigations into abuses would be done internally. The German cases have been particularly dangerous for the pope, who was the bishop of Munich from 1977 to 1981. Already he has been accused of allowing a priest who was a known molester to continue serving. Even the pope's older brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, has been accused of allowing abuses to occur at a school choir he directed from 1964 to 1994.

The church's response: Germany's church leader has apologized for the abuses and stated that the church would institute tough new measures. The archdiocese of Munich moved quickly to defend the pope against the personal accusations, with the second-highest ranked official during Benedict's tenure there claiming full responsibility. Meanwhile, the Vatican has responded defensively, denying the so-called "wall of silence," and accusing the international press of an aggressive campaign to smear the pope -- a tactic that will not play out well with an already-boiling European public that has been looking for him to personally speak out.


The List

The World's New Gay Rights Battlegrounds

They're here, they're queer, and governments from Africa to Asia don't quite know what to do about it. Four countries where gay rights movements face an upward battle for equality.

The struggle for gay rights in the United States has been going on now for decades, brought into the national consciousness by the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s and most recently crystallized by the battles over same-sex marriage and the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military. In other parts of the world, however, the fight is in much earlier stages. Here are four countries where nascent gay- and transgender-rights movements are just picking up steam -- and meeting some ugly backlash as well.



The battle: Uganda's Parliament, not content with the colonial-era anti-gay legislation that already exists, is considering the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which seeks to punish "aggravated homosexuality" -- essentially, sex if one of the participants is HIV-positive -- with death, and other forms of gay sex with life imprisonment. Those who are aware of homosexual activity and fail to report it face up to three years in prison. The bill, which could be voted on as soon as this month, would also criminalize working for gay rights, with a possible sentence of up to seven years.

The outlook: After intense pressure from foreign governments and human rights NGOs, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has distanced himself from the bill, believing that passing it would potentially jeopardize foreign donors' willingness to send aid to Uganda. But, though the bill has catalyzed action in Uganda and overseas (and focused attention on three American evangelicals who appear to bear some accidental responsibility for the bill's genesis), anti-gay sentiment is still stubbornly entrenched there, and it will take a lot for that to change. Uganda is far more likely to remain one of the almost 40 African countries that still bans homosexuality altogether than it is to join South Africa, the only country on the continent to legalize gay marriage.



The battle: Like many Ugandans, Malawians see homosexuality as an evil Western import, something that wouldn't naturally exist in their country if it weren't for the influence of outsiders. So a few cases involving newly visible gay Malawians have shocked people in this African country, where homosexuality can be punished with up to 14 years in prison. First, on Dec. 28, two men, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, were arrested for celebrating their engagement with a traditional chinkhoswe ritual -- the first time a gay couple had ever done so. The verdict in their case is expected by March 22. On Jan. 30, another man was arrested for "disturbing the peace" by putting up a poster that read "Gay Rights Are Human Rights." Then, during a Feb. 15 anti-gay crackdown, a 60-year-old was arrested for "sodomy."

The outlook: The arrests and Monjeza and Chimbalanga's subsequent mistreatment in prison have led to condemnation from international NGOs, as well as escalated tension between gay rights activists and the government, which actively taunted activists to show their faces -- in other words, to risk arrest and imprisonment. "As far as the Malawi government is concerned, we only have two gays in Malawi -- Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga," said government official Kingsley Namakhwa. "If there are others, let them come out in the open." In a country where one in 14 people has HIV/AIDS, with eight people dying every hour, according to the international AIDS nonprofit AVERT, coming out into the open might be a great idea -- if that meant better access to health services, not prison and torture.



The battle: Hijras, or transgender and transvestite men in India and Pakistan, have long been a recognized and partially tolerated population, scraping together a living as wedding dancers and prostitutes and facing the constant threat of aggression and discrimination. India decriminalized homosexuality last summer, but it is still illegal in Pakistan, and a private gay marriage ceremony there in 2005 was met with death threats. So it was big news in July 2009 when Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled that hijras would be officially recognized and registered as citizens. Like India, whose election commission began allowing hijras to mark their gender as "other" on ballot forms last November, Pakistan is recommending that a third gender option be researched for entry on the country's state-issued identity cards.

The outlook: Since the historic 2009 ruling, there has been a significant increase in hijra activism, with demonstrations and celebrations taking place across the country, and the country's first ever hijra cricket team beat a professional squad last August. But the fight for equality is by no means won -- the cricketers had trouble convincing any local politicians to show their faces at the match. Meanwhile, Pakistan's gays continue to live privately. If they find community, it's in small, isolated, urban pockets. Grassroots movements may be encouraged by the recent legal victories there and in India, but broad social acceptance is still a ways off.



The battle: Turkey is widely recognized as being one of the most LGBT-tolerant countries in the Middle East. It is one of only four countries in the region -- the others being Israel, Jordan, and, since 2003, Iraq -- where gay sex is legal, and Istanbul has a lively gay community. But Turkey's ostensibly liberal society has come under scrutiny over the last couple of years due to a string of murders committed against gay and transgender people. In 2008, Ahmet Yildiz was killed by his father in Turkey's first reported honor killing of a gay person. Over the last two years, meanwhile, at least eight transgender people have been murdered. In the first months of 2010 alone, two transgender women were killed, apparently due to homophobic violence. The country is split between a modernizing Islamist government that hopes to join the European Union and a conservative population that is squeamish about the increasingly visible role of gay people in Turkish society. But now, on top of the killings, Ankara is cracking down on gay rights activists, filing civil proceedings to close local group Black Pink Triangle on the grounds that it violates "Turkish moral values and family structure."

The outlook: International NGOs are in an uproar over the violence and the government's attempt to hinder activist groups. And Turkey's effort to join the European Union will probably lead it to temper some of its worst excesses. Still, the deaths and the governmental repression suggest that Turkey's reputation as a relative oasis of human rights in the Middle East isn't going to last long.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images, Chris Jackson/Getty Images, RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images, MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images