Canon Law Was Not the Problem | by Michael Kelly | Catholic World Report
Neglect of canon law, not adherence to it, contributed to the covering up of child abuse by Irish priests.
“Catholic bishops covered up abuse by priests because they relied on canon law rather than the civil law”—it’s a familiar line in the media and from politicians when bishops or religious superiors have been shown to have mishandled abuse allegations. This side of the Atlantic, at least, it’s hard to have a conversation about the issue without this claim being raised—even by faithful Catholics.
It is, of course, true that many bishops did grievously fail children and the Catholic community at large by failing to respond properly to allegations of abuse against priests and religious. However, on closer inspection it becomes obvious that at the heart of the crisis was not only a failure to report a crime to the civil authorities, but also a failure to apply the Church’s own rules, rather than an overreliance on canon law.
Revealing new statistics published by the Archdiocese of Dublin in May offer a decade-by-decade breakdown of when abuse reported to Irish authorities is alleged to have occurred.
The analysis of allegations of abuse made against 98 priests of the archdiocese over a 70-year period shows that the alleged abuse began to skyrocket in the 1960s. Approximately 2 percent of accused priests are alleged to have abused in the 1940s, 4 percent in the 1950s, 23 percent in the 1960s, 27 percent in the 1970s, 34 percent in the 1980s, 9 percent in the 1990s, and 1 percent in the 2000s.
This is very similar to the pattern found in other countries. What explains the fact that the problem became so bad in that particular period—the 1960s to the 80s?