Top Religion Scandals

Clergy Sexual Abuse Scandal

Priest's Collar

Though its epicenter was in Boston, the clergy sexual abuse scandal in 2002 reverberated across America and all the way to the Vatican. It was horrifying enough that scores of priests had sexually molested minors, but revelations that many bishops moved guilty priests from parish to parish to conceal the crimes, brought the Catholic Church to a new low. In some cases, bishops allegedly entered into secret settlements to keep the allegations from becoming public.

Protests and mounting lawsuits forced Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston to resign in 2002, but in 2004 Pope John Paul II chose Law to serve as archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, a move that angered and dismayed Law's critics. Meanwhile, Boston and other dioceses offered millions of dollars in cash settlements to victims and their families who sued, hastening a financial catastrophe that forced some dioceses into bankruptcy. Bishops adopted a "one strike and you're out" policy to permanently remove priests who have abused minors, but lay Catholics pushed for a bigger role in church decisions.

The Boston Globe earned a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the scandal. As the decade wound down, the story continued. In May 2009, Ireland's Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse issued a report finding that rape and sexual abuse had been "endemic" in Catholic run schools in that country.  In November, the Murphy Commission Report traced a pattern of clerical physical and sexual abuse from 1975 to 2004, and two bishops have since resigned.

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