Swiss find sex abuse by Catholic clergy

FILE - Faithful attend the Sunday Mass in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, Sunday, 31 May 2020. A sweeping year-long study of sex abuse by priests and others within the Roman Catholic Church in Switzerland published Tuesday has turned up more than 1,000 cases since the mid-20th century, involving 510 people accused of misconduct and over 900 victims affected. (Urs Flueeler/Keystone via AP, File)

GENEVA -- A sweeping, year-long study of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and others in Switzerland published Tuesday has turned up more than 1,000 cases since the mid-20th century, as the Swiss church becomes the latest in Europe to reckon with the abuse scandal.

With few exceptions, those accused of wrongdoing were all male. Nearly three-fourths of the documents examined showed the sexual abuse involved minors.

The report, commissioned by the Swiss Conference of Bishops and led by two University of Zurich historians, offers a deep look at the sexual abuse and harassment that has confounded the Catholic Church across the globe in recent decades -- upending the lives of many victims and their families, and tarnishing the image of the institution.

The authors said in a statement that they identified 1,002 "situations of sexual abuse" in the Swiss church, including accusations against 510 people. The abuse, they wrote, affected 921 people.

"The situations identified surely amount to only the tip of the iceberg," said the historians Monika Dommann and Marietta Meier in a statement.

Among other findings, which were admittedly not exhaustive, over half -- 56% -- of the cases of sexual abuse involved men or boys. Some 39% of victims were women or girls, while sourcing did not allow for the remaining 5% percent to be identified by gender, according to the study.

The researchers pored over thousands of pages of secret documents, assembled by church authorities since the mid-20th century. But they said many sources of information haven't been fully studied. They cited some cases where documents were destroyed to cover up any alleged wrongdoing.

The study reported that abuse happened across the country. More than half of the cases took place during pastoral care and about 30% occurred in places like schools, homes and boarding schools. Some incidents took place during confessions or consultations.

"Church officials routinely transferred accused and convicted clerics, sometimes even abroad, in an effort to avoid secular criminal prosecution and secure reassignment for clerics," they wrote. "In doing so, the interests of the Catholic Church and its leaders were placed before the well-being and protection of parishioners."

The Swiss Conference of Bishops, which announced Sunday a Vatican-ordered investigation into claims of sexual abuse in Switzerland, and two other religious groups acknowledged in a joint statement that not enough was done to fight such abuse.

"As ecclesiastical institutions, we carry a great share of responsibility in the fact that so many people in the heart of the Church were victims of crimes, and often suffered the consequences for their lives, for themselves, their relationships, their private and professional development, their confidence in God, in life," they said.

The work will continue: The bishops' conference and its partners said the team of researchers will receive about $1.7 million to further pursue the study through 2026.

In their report, the researchers said the Holy See's embassy in Switzerland, or nunciature, denied their request for access to its archives. They noted "major obstacles" when trying to consult the archives at the Vatican itself -- and called for better access in the future.

"Today, the Pope and the Cardinals claim to want to shine a light [on the issue], but they continue to refuse access to the archives of the nunciature and the Vatican," Jacques Nuoffer, the head of a Swiss support group for people who were abused in a religious context, told a news conference in Zurich where the report was presented.

Information for this article was contributed by Nicole Winfield of The Associated Press.