For the first time in Australia, a Catholic diocese has been held vicariously liable for the sexual abuse of a child. Sit with that for a moment. The first time.
Twenty years ago, the Boston Globe Spotlight Team shined light on the clergy abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, specifically in the Archdiocese of Boston. Twenty years before that, whistleblowers, advocates, and attorneys worked tirelessly to help thousands of survivors hold the Catholic hierarchy responsible for the abuse that was allowed to happen under their watch.
Unbeknownst to the public, what happened in Boston, was just the tip of the iceberg. Not only was it happening in Boston, but it was happening for decades across the United States as well as in France, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the list goes on. It seems as if almost every day we read about a new commission, report, or investigation into the cover-up of child sexual abuse and each time the story is essentially the same. The leaders of the Catholic Church want the public to believe this is a “Western problem” and it’s “in the past.” They also want you to believe that they’ve changed and that there’s zero tolerance for child abuse. We know that’s not true either.
This brave survivor helped break new legal ground in Australia. Why can’t that happen across the globe? We know that child sexual abuse, within the Catholic Church and elsewhere, is a global crisis. The economic cost of child sexual abuse impacts every country and costs hundreds of millions of dollars every year, not to mention thousands of lives. In every country and on every continent, there is a survivor fighting for the same justice that survivors in the United States have obtained and what this survivor in Australia has now obtained. Hopefully, this fight will continue, and someday each survivor can be afforded the same opportunities in our justice systems.
Unfortunately for many survivors of child sexual abuse across the globe, they will never see their abuser and the Catholic hierarchy held accountable because of the structure of the legal systems and the lack of redress available for those harmed as children. Fortunately for survivors in Australia, that tide has seemed to turn. At least for now.