Catholic Priests Molesting Children: Was This Always Known About?

I watched a TV series that took place, in part, c. 1928 in New Orleans. There’s a scene where two Catholic priests are murdered violently, and a witness says something to the effect that the townsfolk are just going to conclude they were kiddly diddlers and think nothing of it.

Was this a thing even a century (or more ago)? That Catholic priests systemically abused children? But that it was only confirmed when the Boston Globe did that explosive report c. 1991 or whenever?

What, you think this is just something that started in the 1980s’?:

Et cetera, ad nauseam.


The Dickens story A Christmas Carol alludes to this in the part where as a young boy Scrooge was left at a boarding school over Christmas break by his father so that he could receive free tuition. You are led to believe that he was being molested during this time and led to his unfeeling character and dislike of Christmas.

It’s not really stated what religion Scrooge was (most likely Anglican like Dickens) , but it was common belief that certain authority figures in the early 1800’s England molested children.

I think just about every community back then had at least one person that “Everyone knew” shouldn’t be left alone with your kids. The issue, at the time, was that no one knew just how many "that one guy"s there actually were. And no one knew that the Church, as an institution, was covering things up in order to protect the institution.

So, everyone knew that Father Joe was a problem, but didn’t think much further than that.

In my life, I saw that with one of the priests in our church who was an alcoholic. Lots of people knew about it (I discovered later, being too young at the time to figure this out), but very few people discussed it.

He didn’t ask if it existed, he asked if it was general knowledge like it is today? I sincerely doubt that it was for several reasons. First of all, many more people were devoutly Catholic than there are today, and they viewed their priest as an agent of God, as someone who could do no wrong. Secondly, communication back then was downright primitive. Pretty much everything was far less known in general because of that reason.

Yes, this. I should have been more clear. Obviously it happened, I’m just asking if it was common knowledge that people even joked about in those days.

Catholics don’t believe that priests can do no wrong.

Ever since Rome converted to Christianity, people have been accusing their political opponents of sodomy. So it was always known that someone, somewhere, was doing it. Whether you wanted to believe that your own parish priest was doing it, was another matter.

Did you bother reading any of the citations? Here, I’ll help you out:

Writing in the early 16th century, the Dutch scholar Erasmus already lamented that the faithful “often fall into the hands of priests who, under the pretense of confession, commit acts which are not fit to be mentioned.”

Yes, the abuse by priests—Catholic and otherwise—was a well-known phenomenon long before the recent revelations, and according to many historians was one of the formative impulses beyond the Protestant Reformation.


Well, if the Dutch scholar Erasmus equates to general knowledge among the hoi polloi, I stand corrected.

No, not as an official teaching. But there was a certain type of Catholic in the past who wouldn’t have suspected anything unusual if say a priest invited a boy to a sleepover at the rectory or on a camping trip. . Although I suspect that this wasn’t limited to Catholics and priests.

If you have not already, I urge you to watch the film Spotlight

Watch till the very end.

I know that this was explicit in a fairly recent TV version - but I don’t recall Dickens ever explaining why Scrooge was left at school over Christmas break. It’s not like trading molestation for free tuition was the only possible reason.

For certain child abuse and pedophilia are not issues solely limited to the Catholic Church, and in fact can be assumed to be endemic in any organization where adults are given unfettered and unsupervised access to children with little transparency because predators look for those kinds of situations. What is different about the Catholic Church is the magnitude of the coverup, going to the highest levels of ecclesiastical management for decades as documented by the Boston Globe investigation (as well as numerous others) and often involving moving serial offenders across national borders to protect them. However, while the recent investigations have focused on still-living offenders for obvious reasons, the culture of abuse and grooming children as victims—as well as the ‘resettlement’, ritual abuse, and forcible marriage/rape of ‘native’ peoples by formal Church doctrine—goes back centuries.

Would the average person circa 1928 have been aware of this? To some greater or lesser extent it is unavoidable; even if newspapers didn’t publish on it and authorities didn’t prosecute it, it would be well-known that there are certain priests to be avoided, and if you talk to elderly Catholics nearly all of them have a story about avoiding “Father _____” because of his known predilection to corner vulnerable children. The systemic extent of concealment was probably not fully appreciated except by people associated with Church management because in the pre-WWII environment the Church was one of, if not the most, powerful supranational organization that influenced finances and governance of many nations, and the Church could use its influence to suppress investigation or publication of its efforts to protect pedophile priests.


Well that’s just it, people didn’t talk openly about such things back then but they did allude to such things. Boarding schools, apprentice seaman and Catholics priest were generally alluded to being breeding grounds for homosexual (thus child molestation in their mind) behaviors without explicitly saying so due to the taboo nature of the subject. No one dared to publicly call them out for fear of reprisals from these politically strong institutions, which is why it was hush hush, word of mouth for so long.

Of course people knew as victims would speak about the abuses until quieted down. A lot of victim blaming occurred and the perpetrators had support of the large institutions. victims were told not to speak about it and put it behind them or their lives could be ruined. It was a different world.

When Dickens wrote that Scrooge was not allowed to go home for Christmas as part of his childhood trauma it brought to mind a conclusion in people minds as to why. It certainly wasn’t because he loved school so much, it was so traumatic the ghost of Christmas past brought it up and Scrooges reaction was telling.

I believe, too, that historically, children, much like animals, were seen as being available for any sort of use, by many. Sexual abuse of children, by adult males, was endemic in many cultures (frankly it still is). What is unusual about the Catholic Church is the vast network of hypocrisy due specifically to the official celibacy of the priesthood, and the interest of the hierarchy in being seen to be both pure in action and in sole possession of the power of the sacred. Homosexuality between priests, and the abuse of nuns are both intrinsic to this paradigm.

I didn’t mean that the abuse wasn’t limited to the Catholic Church - what I meant that it almost certainly wasn’t just Catholic priests who had unfettered and unsupervised access to children because people who might be suspicious if the childless neighbor down the street invited their eight year old to sleep over or offered to take their ten year old camping didn’t have those same suspicions when it was a priest or a minister or a Boy Scout leader ( another group that did a lot of covering up )

Abuse of power has always been common in every kind of institution. It doesn’t matter if it’s adults taking advantage of children when the children aren’t allowed to protest, men taking advantage of women when women aren’t allowed to protest, bosses taking advantage of their subordinates when they aren’t allowed to protest, children bullying other children when the bullied ones aren’t allowed to protest, people of one race taking advantage of those of another race when they aren’t allowed to protest, and so on for every situation. It happens in churches, schools, workplaces, homes, and so on. The only difference now is that there are many people pointing out the problems in many situations. Some people think that the fact that a particular kind of abuse appears in current news stories while it didn’t appear in older new stories must mean that it must not have occurred before. On the contrary, sometimes it means that this abuse was more common in older times.

Absolutely. While I don’t object to modern adaptations presenting revisionist interpretations of older texts, which often provides interesting and thought-provoking alternative versions, I think it’s completely unwarranted to suggest that Dickens himself was trying to suggest that the young Scrooge was sexually molested at his boarding school during the holidays.

Everything in the story AFAICT is simply emphasizing how dreary and lonely (and physically cold) it was for Scrooge to stay at the school, isolated from his family and fellow-pupils.

Dickens was not a particularly subtle author in his depiction of character and emotional state. When he writes that the young Scrooge was miserable at school during the holidays because he was lonely and neglected and dull, I don’t think there’s any reason to infer that there was anything deeper or more sinister going on than that Scrooge was indeed lonely and neglected and dull.

Moreover, his father’s motives in neglecting him seem to have been simply general indifference and unkindness, which apparently were mitigated later. There’s no suggestion whatsoever that the father saved money on tuition by letting Scrooge be used as the schoolmaster’s bum-boy. In a more realistic and less lurid view, leaving Scrooge at school during the holidays would have cost more money for additional board fees than just letting him come home.

Again, I don’t have an issue with modern TV adapters thinking up scandalous revised variations on the original theme, but I don’t buy any of the claims that these revised versions are what Dickens really meant all along.

Yes, and remember- the Catholic church has no monopoly on either molestation or cover ups. Girls swim coach, weird Uncle Joe, Protestant reverend- pretty much any male (and sometimes female) who are in a position of trust and authority. Schools covered this up, families covered it up, and so forth.


Well, even if sexual abuse by the teachers wasn’t implied, bullying by older students was a way of life.