A Short Chronology on the Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Clergy

I believe that an important and useful tool to understand the response to the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the United States and in the world, is to look at it in a chronological perspective. Line up everything in a time line and make your own insights on how the whole issue, was identified, and dealt with. We need to consider it all, good and bad. I ask everyone who has an item for the time line, from what has happened where they live or from what they have read or experienced, to email me with the item to consider for inclusion on the chronology. 

Go to the Comments section at the bottom of the page and send us your thoughts, with Chronology in the subject line.

The Codex Iuris Canonici promulgated in 1917, established canonical sanctions for delicts against the Sixth Commandment. 

March 16, 1962
The Instruction Crimen Solicitationis established a manner of proceeding in such cases.  Judicial competence had been attributed exclusively to the Congregation of the Holy Office (later the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), and that competence, it was stated, should be executed either administratively or through a judicial process.

August 15, 1967
Regimin Ecclesiae Universae, confirmed the judicial and administrative competence of the Congregation of the Holy Office and designated that it proceed in these cases according to its amended and approved norms.

Cleric James Porter of Fall River, MA requested a voluntary, canonical return to the lay state.  In 1995 the first arrest and conviction of former cleric Porter took place and after an appeal, a second arrest and conviction of Porter resulted in a sentence of imprisonment of eighteen to twenty years in prison.  The 1995 conviction made this one of the most sensational cases of sexual abuse of children ever in the United States and the media covered it extensively.

June 28, 1988
By the authority of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, it was expressly established that “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith examines delicts against the faith and more grave delicts whether against morals or committed in the celebration of the sacraments, which have been referred to it and, when ever necessary, proceeds to declare or impose canonical sanctions according to the norm of both common or proper law

The criminal prosecution of Gilbert Gauthe in Louisiana. Gauthe entered a guilty plea in state court to the sexual abuse of eleven minor boys.  This case received as much media coverage as the Porter case and caused the first great outrage and backlash against the Catholic Church.  

Pope John Paul II permanently removed Boston Catholic cleric John Geoghan from the priesthood. Geoghan had retired from active ministry in 1993.  He was convicted criminally in 2002 and sentenced to prison where he was murdered by his cell mate.  Numerous criminal cases and appeals concerning him were still active at the time of his death. 

April 30, 2001
The Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio, promulgated The Norms Concerning the more grave delicts reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith  (Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela). These Norms consisted of two parts, The Substantive Norms and The Procedural Norms. 

The Boston Globe published a series of articles concerning sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clerics and received a Pulitzer Prize for its work. In Boston John Geoghan, John Hanlon, Robert V. Gale, James Talbot, S.J. and Paul Shanley, all Catholic Clerics, were exposed as serial abusers and were among the cases investigated by the Boston Globe.

The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, “to conduct a study on the problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests”. Its findings were published in a report in 2004.

June, 2002
The USCCB, at its regular June Plenary Assembly, set in place the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People (The Charter). Concurrent with the release of the Charter but not a part of the Charter, the Conference released its Statement of the Episcopal Commitment andits Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons. 

June, 2002
The USCCB established its National Review Board of advisers “to make appropriate recommendations to prevent sexual abuse of minors”.

December 13, 2002
Bernard Cardinal Law, resigns as Leader of the Catholic Church in Boston and on the day he was due to testify at a deposition in a civil case for which he was subpoenaed, Law traveled to Rome where he stayed until his death on December 12, 2017.

June, 2004
The function of the National Review Board was minimally revised and reconfirmed by the USCCB at its June Plenary Assembly.

July, 2004
The Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, became the first Diocese in the United States to declare bankruptcy because of civil claims of sexual abuse by a cleric.   Bankruptcy filings have continued.

The first Grand Jury Investigation by a PA Grand Jury focusing on Philadelphia clergy was carried out. No convictions resulted from that investigation.

June, 2005
The USCCB revised its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People at its June Plenary Assembly.

May 5, 2006
The USCCB Essential Norms were granted recognition by the Holy See and legitimately promulgated in accord with the practice of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  They constituted particular law for the United States dioceses and eparchies. 

Another Grand Jury report was published concerning Catholic clergy in Philadelphia, PA.  It resulted in the conviction of three clergy perpetrators.  More importantly it resulted in the conviction of Monsignor William Lynn who became the first official to be convicted in the United States of covering up sexual abuses by other priests in his charge.   Other senior church officials were extensively criticized in the media, for their management of the issue in the archdiocese.  The criminal case against Lynn became complicated through the appeal process and at one point, even though not convicted at the time, Lynn was denied bond and was imprisoned for thirty-three months. 

June 2011
The USCCB revised its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People at its June Plenary Assembly.

March 22, 2014
Pope Francis instituted the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.  It is chaired by Boston’s Cardinal Archbishop, Sean Cardinal O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap. 

From 2016 through 2018
A Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigated sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in six of the eight Pennsylvania state’s Dioceses.  The Dioceses of Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown were not included as they had been the subjects of earlier investigations.  Prior to the release of the report in August 2018, six Bishops pledged future cooperation in investigating such sexual abuse of minors and published the names of the credibly accused priests of their respective Dioceses.  When it was released, the Report named several Bishops as having helped cover up complaints of abusive priests. 

June 2018
The USCCB revised its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People at its June Plenary Assembly.

February 21 – 24, 2019
The Meeting on the Protection of Minors was held in Rome and sponsored by the Holy See.

March 29, 2019
Pope Francis issued new laws and guidelines on the protection of minors for those working within Vatican City and the Roman Curia, including the obligation to report abuse.

May 9, 2019
Pope Francis releases the Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio “Vox Estis Lux Mundi” which included new law for the investigation of clergy abuse and any facilitation of it by Bishops.

September 12, 2019
The Diocese of Rochester, NY declares bankruptcy and becomes the twentieth United States Diocese to do so. 

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