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Catholic sex scandal Few priests prosecuted for sexual abuse

Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests are demanding financial compensation

(Keystone)

Only around 20 criminal cases have been opened against priests and Catholic monks for sexual abuse in Switzerland since 2010, despite the church catching 172 alleged offenders.

Many of the recorded cases date back to the 1950s and some suspects have therefore died. However, that is not the only reason for the discrepancy – other suspects simply could not be tracked down, the Swiss Bishops Conferenceexternal link told the Swiss News Agency.

Joseph Bonnemain, secretary of the conference’s special commission on sexual abuse within the church, said the low prosecution rate was also down to the fact that the dioceses had provided “very sketchy” information, especially for the period between 1950 and 1980.

Many people close to abuse victims are convinced that certain clerics are protecting their colleagues.

“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: every accusation made against a living priest or a lay person who works for the church will be handed over to the justice authorities immediately,” said Charles Morerod, bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg.

However, the conference explained that this could only happen under certain conditions. For example, a diocese could only report a case with the alleged victim’s permission – “and the majority of [victims] don’t want to go through the courts”, Bonnemain said.

The church said the only time it could go straight to the authorities – without informing the victim – is when there’s a risk of a relapse. This is in stark contrast to the penal code, however, which defines the majority of sexual offences as offences for which proceedings are brought directly by the public prosecutor.

Indeed, of the 20 alleged offenders who ended up in court, 11 were not reported by the dioceses but by victims or on behalf of victims.

Statute of limitations

The church maintains that disciplinary measures are occasionally taken, even if cases do not go to court, pointing out that nine priests have been suspended and three made to undergo therapy.

But it says that sometimes too much time has elapsed between certain events and the acknowledgement by the church of a problem, with the result that countless cases exceed the statute of limitations.

“That doesn’t change the fact that damage has been caused and victims have been traumatised for life,” said Jacques Nuoffer, himself a victim and a member of the conference’s special commission on sexual abuse.

Nuoffer is demanding the church recognise its responsibility and pay financial compensation to victims.

swissinfo.ch with agencies

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