Sexual Assault Worldwide: From the Catholic Church to the US Supreme Court

Written by: Samantha Mintz-Agnello

Sexual assault is an issue that prevails throughout society, specifically when those in power exert it over their victims. Reports of sexual assault and misconduct are not new to the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, their treatment of victims and survivors is horrifying.

Pope Francis stated on Saturday September 29 that he wants people to pray for the Catholic Church amid sexual abuse allegations. In his latest response, he believes they are “attacks from the devil” and said it was not true that he and those in charge before him were covering up these heinous crimes. Francis determined that the devil was the “Great Accuser, who roams the earth looking for ways to accuse”. No one can say for sure whether Francis was insinuating that former ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, was the “Great Accuser.” He accused Francis of “rehabilitating ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI over reports he slept with seminarians” and accused over 24 Vatican officials of covering up sexual assault

Additionally, in a statement made by Mark Vincent Healy, a survivor of the Irish clerical abuse in the 1990s, who met with Francis back in February, he claimed the Pope has done nothing to fix this issue and punish those responsible. This absence of a response makes victims fearful whether their attackers will ever be held responsible.  Healy also stated the Pope “has had since March 2013” to address these allegations and reprimand those responsible. However, it just seems the Pope is dancing around the subject.  Healy is not the only survivor who feels this way. Colm O’Gorman, also a victim of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland, articulated his disappointment with the Catholic Church and said the whole situation is “terribly simple.” He stated, “To rape a child is an incredibly serious crime. To cover it up is, and should be, a very serious crime.”

The Catholic Church’s response to these allegations is despicable. By refusing to punish those responsible, they are letting rapists remain powerful and feared. It is setting a worldwide precedent that authoritative and significant men in the Catholic Church are not and will not be held accountable for their actions. Furthermore, the Pope’s comparison of people coming forward with abuse allegations as the “devil” is detrimental to the healing process of the victims. Not only does this discourage victims from coming forward in fear of being religiously ostracized, but it blames the victims and makes them feel shameful about being sexually abused, which is obviously unjust. Victim blaming is one of the many reason sexual assault survivors do not come forward and allows the vicious cycle to continue. If there was a greater effort to stop victim blaming, survivors could heal and continue to come forward.

The humiliation of the Catholic Church is not far off from what goes on in America. Over the summer, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assualting her when they were in high school in the 1980s. Three other women came forward with accusations of sexual assault as well. On Thursday September 27, Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh testified in front of US Senators, causing the FBI to launch an investigation to delve into this case further.

Dr. Ford’s life has been greatly impacted. In her testimony, she stated she received death threats, her personal information was hacked and posted publicly, and her family has moved their home and is hiding. With all the horrible things that happened to her, people still believe she is falsely accusing Kavanaugh of a crime as serious as rape to push a political agenda. Claims have been made that she is simply making this up because she disapproves of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. 

Our nation, and clearly the whole world, needs to change the treatment of sexual assault survivors on a global scale. There are people who have difficulty believing rape and sexual assault survivors. When a man or woman accuses a man in power, like clergymen or a Supreme Court nominee, there is often a lack of action taken or a lack of trust in the victim. As a society, there needs to be a greater effort in holding sexual abusers accountable and punishing them appropriately. While Dr. Ford’s testimony is monumental and heroic and the survivors of the Catholic Church are courageous, this is just the beginning in a long road of sexual assault that humanity has ahead.