With this title, Editorial Catalonia has just published a book on the subject. The idea has been to delineate as accurately as possible the dimensions of the phenomenon and to search for its deepest historical roots in order to understand it and to be able to contribute to overcoming this very serious problem as soon as possible.

The most serious aspect of the problem is the global scope it has acquired, both the profusion of cases of ecclesiastical pedophilia in recent decades and, above all, the disastrous policies of the Vatican and the majority of the world’s episcopates and religious congregations in concealing the crimes and protecting their perpetrators. In short, the Church hierarchy has systematically developed a corporate defence that has succeeded only in exponentially increasing the harm to its victims and, at the same time, undermining perhaps as never before the moral authority of the Church itself and introducing an unjust and cruel cloak of suspicion over the generality of priests and religious around the world.

The book makes an effort to detail as much as possible the worldwide scope of the phenomenon, seeking the most up-to-date data possible from published books, journalistic and judicial sources, victims’ organisations, governmental and ecclesiastical commissions, and specialised bodies on the subject. It is true that all the records found are far from covering the facts, since it is very difficult for many victims of such serious and traumatic attacks to even denounce their existence. But the results are shocking nonetheless.

Worse still are the Vatican and hierarchical attitudes towards them. Starting with the denial or minimisation of them.

Then, by pressuring their relatives not to denounce them. Or, alternatively, by initiating an “eternal” and secret canonical investigation to end in nothing or with reprimands, “therapeutic treatment” or, worse still, with the transfer of the perpetrators to other pastoral places – without warning the new parishioners of their dangerousness – thus greatly disseminating the evils caused to numerous new victims by criminals sure of their impunity.

And when, from the 1980s onwards, the cases began to be made public in large numbers, throughout the continents, the hierarchical attitude was also incredibly shameful. Always seeking to “lower the profile”, when not seeking to seal the secrecy of the relatives in exchange for financial compensation; or discrediting the complainants; or disqualifying the press as the “enemy” of the Church. And never properly addressing the integral reparation of the thousands of victims.

The general attitude of the Catholic laity and of priests and religious themselves – the vast majority of whom are innocent of being perpetrators of abuse – to simply look the other way in terms of effective corrective action, let alone public pronouncements commensurate with the gravity of the problem and the immense damage done by hierarchical protections or – at best – omissions, has also been very distressing.

The book also makes a special study of three situations that particularly illustrate the behavioural patterns of the Vatican and national ecclesiastical hierarchies. They are those concerning the Legionaries of Christ and Marcial Maciel; the United States; and Chile. Thus, for example, according to official Vatican sources, it has been learned that the first indications of Marcial Maciel’s paedophile behaviour came to the Vatican’s attention in 1943, when Maciel was not even a priest. It is also very shocking to know that the only serious Vatican investigation of Maciel until the end of the pontificate of John Paul II (between 1956 and 1958), the Vatican Curia saved him, in a completely illegal and immoral way, in the period between the death of Pius XII and the election and enthronement of John XXIII!

In the case of the United States and the Vatican, we have – for example – the case of Theodore McCarrick, appointed Archbishop of Washington in 2000 (and the following year Cardinal), despite the fact that John Paul II had received allegations against him from a victim in an audience in 1988. That, furthermore, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John O’Connor, had written to the Nuncio in the United States in 1999 that he had serious fears from authorised witnesses that his appointment would lead to scandal. And that in the mid-1990s three seminarians had unsuccessfully accused him of abuse. Only in 2017 did Francis take the case seriously; and, after a Vatican investigation, he was only removed from the priesthood in 2019.

In the case of Chile and the Vatican, perhaps the most shocking thing was Francis’ attitude in 2013 (until 2018) in appointing Cardinal Errázuriz to the Group of eight cardinals charged with studying a reform of the Vatican Curia, despite the fact that years earlier he had publicly acknowledged that he had acted – at least – with great negligence in the cases of Karadima and Bishop Cox. Indeed, in 2002 he said of Cox (having been Errázuriz’s Schoenstatt superior in Chile from 1965 to 1971) that “he had a somewhat exuberant affection” which “was directed towards all kinds of people, although it is more surprising in relation to children”. And that “when his friends and his superiors became very harsh in correcting him, he kept silent and humbly asked for forgiveness. He would tell us that he was going to make a serious effort to find a different style of treatment, but unfortunately, he did not succeed” (La Nación; 2-11-2002).

In turn, regarding Karadima, Errázuriz told Judge Jessica González on 13 July 2011: “The recess of the administrative procedure between 2006 and 2009 is my responsibility and was a decision I took after having heard the testimony of Monsignor Andrés Arteaga (Karadima’s close disciple!) regarding the complainants (Karadima’s)” (Mónica González, Juan Andrés Guzmán and Gustavo Villarrubia). Los secretos del imperio de Karadima; Edit. Catalonia, 2014 (1st edition 2011); p. 245). And he declared to the same judge who in 2006 asked Karadima to step down as parish priest of El Bosque, so that he would cease his abuses: “I thought that by removing him from his post and knowing about the allegations against him that I had made known to those close to him, and that they would no doubt have made known to him, his abusive behaviour would cease” (Ibid.).

Also shocking was Francisco’s scandalous appointment of Juan Barros (also a close disciple of Karadima) as bishop of Osorno in 2015, which caused outcry and indignation among the faithful, Chilean church authorities and the Chamber of Deputies itself. And that he stubbornly kept him in his post until after his disastrous visit to our country – at the beginning of 2018 – he was virtually forced to ask for his resignation; and not just from him, but from all Chilean bishops.

Given that, ultimately, the explosion of pedophilia cases and their concealment constitutes an extreme abuse of power that goes far beyond strict sexual depravity, the book also carries out a succinct historical analysis of the trajectory of Vatican behaviour, particularly in the last millennium, with the idea of finding the keys that allow us to understand the roots of such a serious phenomenon, in order to provide concrete ideas for overcoming it (to be continued).