In October 1992, Irish singer-songwriter Sinead O'Connor tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on "Saturday Night Live," sparking a huge public outcry and backlash against the artist. O'Connor said she did it to protest the widespread child abuse perpetrated by the Catholic Church. Since then, these claims against the church have been proven accurate, with numerous scandals coming to light — as well as chilling proof of coverups and payoffs.
So how could this happen? And what could possibly have led to such extensive behavior among so many high-ranking bishops, cardinals and leaders within the Catholic Church? That's what Stuff They Don't Want You To Know investigate in Catholics, Children and Conspiracy: The Epidemic of Abuse. Hosts Matt Frederick, Ben Bowlin and Noel Brown take a look at the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the many allegations laid at its doorstep and what might have been the cause of such horrific behavior in this episode of the podcast.
The Catholic Church is an extremely powerful religious organization, with a past that stretches through centuries of human history and provides the foundation for nearly all Christian sects and denominations. It controls a vast amount of wealth — though no one's really sure how much — but estimates are in the billions. It also claims millions of faithful believers all over the world.
And while there's no denying the church has done a lot of good for education and health care, it's also responsible for atrocities such as the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. Perhaps most heartbreaking, though, are the numerous cases of child sexual abuse that have come to light, including the generations of young Catholic boys around the world who have been victimized. Even more disturbing is that the top officials of the church were repeatedly informed and warned of the behavior. But instead of putting a stop to it, the accused priests and cardinals were simply relocated to other parishes, or were required to spend time in a Catholic treatment center before being returned to their parishes.
The kind of authority and integrity attributed to a trusted religious figure makes reporting these allegations extremely difficult on the victims, especially when it's a child. And sexual abuse in general is already one of the most underreported crimes. That gave the church an enormous advantage over the abused. But the hierarchy of the church helped too, and the higher ranked an accused priest was, it seems, the more he was protected. In fact, instead of being punished, some of the abusers were essentially promoted when their actions came to light. The Catholic Church used its vast fortune to cover up the accusations, too, paying out hush money to victims in exchange for their silence.
So why has the Catholic priesthood struggled so much with the issue of sexual abuse? Many have pointed to the vows of chastity taken by priests, or the lack of women in authority positions as possible explanations. Others have suggested that it is, in fact, not a problem unique to the Catholic Church at all; rather, many religious institutions, as well as schools, sports teams and workplaces all have similar power dynamics and opportunities for abuse, and while the Catholic Church certainly has room to improve, it's being unfairly singled out.
Whatever the reasons, it's true that a real, and horrifying, conspiracy was committed by this extraordinarily powerful institution, and the consequences of its actions (or lack of) are just as real and horrifying. Listen to the entire podcast as Matt, Ben and Noel take a hard look at the crimes and confessions of the Catholic Church.