10 Cover-ups That Just Made Things Worse

Pedophile Priests
Mark Zak kneels to pray outside Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago during a demonstration calling for Cardinal Francis George to resign following his failure to take immediate action a priest charged of sexually abusing three boys. Scott Olson/Getty Images

In 1973, Massachusetts-based Roman Catholic priest James R. Porter, sent a disturbing letter to Pope Paul VI. Porter admitted that he had been sexually abusing children for years, and asked that he be relieved of his duties before he hurt anyone else. "I know in the past that I used to hide behind a Roman collar, thinking that it would be a shield for me," he said.

But Porter's personnel file, obtained in 1992 by the Boston Globe, revealed that Porter had considerable help covering up his crimes against roughly 100 young boys and girls. In the course of his 14-year career, Porter had been removed from his duties at least eight times by superiors because he had assaulted children, and sent to receive mental health treatment for pedophilia — only to be allowed to resume his work after they were satisfied that had been cured of his predatory predilections [source: Butterfield].

For decades, the Catholic hierachy — both in the U.S. and in other countries — engaged in a systematic effort to cover up crimes by its clergy. But when victims of priestly abuse finally began going public in the 1980s, widespread outrage led the truth to come out.

A study commissioned in the 2000s by church officials in the U.S. revealed that between 1950 and 2002, 4,392 priests had been accused of sexual abuse. Some, such as Porter, ultimately were convicted and sent to prison. But the church itself also paid dearly for the cover-up. By one estimate in the late 2000s, various U.S. archdioceses have paid out more than $3 billion to settle lawsuits by victims [sources: Chinnici, Boston Globe].