Vatican Announces Symposium & Online Database to Prevent Sex Abuse by Priests

In the wake of the sex abuse scandal that has unmoored the Catholic Church around the world, the Vatican has announced a symposium entitled “Toward Healing and Renewal” at Rome’s Jesuit University in February of next year to address the ongoing problem of abuse by priests. According to the New York Times, psychologists, theologians and child abuse specialists are among those invited to attend, to provide their “expertise to bishops.” The Vatican has given the bishops a deadline of May to devise guidelines about handling the abuse and high time and has told them that “they should cooperate with the law enforcement authorities” rather than handling cases of abuse internally, within the Church.

The priest sex abuse scandal has bankrupted dioceses who have been ordered to pay settlements to victims of priest sex abuse in Milwaukee, DelawareSpokane and throughout the US. Documents continue to emerge revealing how bishops protected abusive priests by, among other “procedures,” moving them to dioceses in different parts of the country. Indeed, a the National Catholic Reporter says, advocates for victims of sexual abuse by priests have recently called for a local grand jury inquiry into Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese’s sex abuse procedures, to investigate not only cases of abuse but of “cover-ups.” 

A recent bishops’ report conducted by a team of researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the priest sex abuse scandal invoked the Woodstock defense, pointing the finger at the sexual revolution and societal turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s as the culprit for the horrific crimes committed by clergy against children.  Victims advocates have hailed this report as very much an example of way too little, too late. Commenting on the bishops’ report, one historian of American Catholicism, Jim Fisher — yes, my husband, who’s a professor in the Department of Theology at Fordham University in New York city — wrote:

Readers of the John Jay study tempted to lament the loss of this golden age of manly clerics —and the riotous age of unreason that succeeded it–might do well to reflect on a single paragraph found in Joseph E. Califano’s 2004 memoir. Califano, who went on to become, along perhaps with Sargent Shriver, the most prominent Catholic public servant of the past half-century, revealed in his memoir that a Woodstock-trained New York Jesuit sexually molested him at the order’s Staten Island retreat house when Califano was a Jesuit high school student in the late 1940s.

Joe Califano later acknowledged he spent more time dwelling on this episode in composing the memoir than any other from his long and varied career, but finally decided to include the story because, as he insisted at the time, he believed the number of clergy sex abuse survivors was far greater than the grossly understated figure of 11,000 being casually tossed around at the time he was writing. It was quite clear that Califano would never have disclosed his abuse had it not been for the wave of revelations that followed the Boston Globe’s 2002 exposes.

Anybody who thinks there was something anomalous about the 60s and 70s, where sex abuse in the church is concerned, needs to learn about the code of silence and the code of violence that sustained it for over a century, and counting. The second most powerful Catholic in the Philadelphia Archdiocese is not currently under indictment for misdeeds committed back in the glory days of Country Joe and the Fish.

According to the New York Times, one measure the the Vatican is planning to take to prevent further cases of sexual abuse by priests is to create a multilingual internet database and learning center that will “involve cooperation with medical schools and universities and will be accessible, in part, to the public.” The New York Times  does not specify what information the database will contain; one hopes that it would at least document any history of sexual abuses by clergy. Further, will the database and learning center also required the “cooperation” of dioceses and parishes, to provide information about clergy members whose past is less than pristine?



Related Care2 Coverage

Female Catholic Priests Defy the Vatican

Bishops’ Report on Priest Sexual Abuse Scandal Puts the Blame on Woodstock

The Sex Abuse Scandal and the Church That Did Not Know Right From Wrong


Photo by Kamoteus (A Better Way).


Yvette S.
Past Member 6 years ago

The Vatican has given the bishops a deadline of May to devise guidelines about handling the abuse and high time and has told them that “they should cooperate with the law enforcement authorities” rather than handling cases of abuse internally, within the Church.

Wow....this is at least a start. A few centuries too late, but some progress is better than none. I think this is a wait and see kind of situation, though.

Sue Cox
Sue Cox6 years ago

This Symposium is about healing and renewal but only for the church! They couldn't care less about abuse survivors, they haven't since the fourteenth century.You do not need a symposium to tell you how to do THE RIGHT THING. This is a PR stunt, why else would they announce it to the world six months in advance! Our experiences know very much better. Go to see some real healing!
Sue Cox Survivors Voice Europe.

suzanne o.
suzanne o6 years ago

but is there any place to report about non-sexual other abuse in catholic families , homes, etc ? psycho-kill abuses , bullying , neo=fascism etc etc etc etc ?

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B6 years ago

Too late...

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan6 years ago

I am suprised but happy that the Catholic Church is taking steps to recognise and openly discuss the problem.

Bernard Cronyn
6 years ago

Any parent prepared to leave a child alone unsupervised with a priest is nuts!

monica r.
monica r6 years ago

Statistically, 4% of priests are pedophiles. There are about 43,000 Catholic priests worldwide. That is 1720 pedophiles. They should all be locked up.

Statistically, 8% of the general population are pedophiles. There are 311,601,563 Americans (source US debt clock). Therefore 25 million Americans are pedophiles. They should be locked up, too.

Keep in mind that ALL priests could potentially be pedophiles, but some of the US population can't, like I doubt kids under 2 would sexually abuse anyone, but they are included in the group that 8% comes from. That means the percentage is higher, if you could just look at Americans capable of pedophilia as opposed to the whole population. Also they don't all dress in black with funny collars, so how do you spot them???

Any pedophile accused should be investigated by law enforcement. I know of a priest in NY who was falsely accused. The local diocese told the DA to investigate, plus they would as well. The DA found out that the priest was hospitalized hooked up to machines at the timeframe the young man claimed he was abused. It carried more weight coming from the DA, too. You can't call that a coverup.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams6 years ago

The catholic church needs to learn to reassign priests found to have committed any sort of abuse not merely to another parish but to an assignment where they will NOT be in any position to abuse anybody--maybe in their publishing house--maybe as clerks to their higher ups.

Hege Torset
Hege Torset6 years ago


Lynne B.
Lynne Buckley6 years ago

I'm not sure how this is supposed to work. However, at least it's a small step towards dealing with it, instead of hiding the sexual abuse by priests that has happened in the past