Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire
Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire began during the Ministry of Jesus and continued intermittently over a period of about three centuries until the time of Constantine when Christianity was legalized. Christians were persecuted by local authorities on a sporadic and ad-hoc basis, often more according to the whims of the local community than to the opinion of imperial authority. This persecution heavily influenced the development of Christianity, shaping the selection of the Canonical gospels, Christian theology and the structure of the Church. Among other things, persecution sparked the cult of the saints, facilitated the rapid growth and spread of Christianity prompted defenses and explanations of Christianity (the "apologies") and, in its aftermath, raised fundamental questions about the nature of the Christian Church. Although Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire the empire in 380, persecution of Christians did not come to a complete halt; instead, it switched to those deemed to be heretics. Again more material was lost or destroyed particularly in regard to Jewish Christianity
Being persecuted for one's faith and the veneration of martyrs have been important components of the Christian faith for centuries.
“Notions of persecution by the "world," ...run deep in the Christian tradition. For evangelicals who read the New Testament as an inerrant history of the primitive church, the understanding that to be a Christian is to be persecuted is obvious, if not inescapable”
The "eschatological ideology" of martyrdom was based on a paradox found in the Pauline epistles: "to live outside of Christ is to die, and to die in Christ is to live."
The lives of the martyrs became a source of inspiration for some Christians, and their lives and relics were revered. The 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian wrote that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church," implying that the martyrs' willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others. Relics of the saints are still revered in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The age of martyrdom led to the presence of relics in altars, and in the foundation stones of the buildings built for worship.
The age of martyrs also forced the church to confront theological issues such as the proper response to those Christians who “lapsed” and renounced the Christian faith to save their lives: were they to be allowed back into the Church? Some felt they should not, while others said they could. In the end, it was agreed to allow them in after a period of penance. The re-admittance of the “lapsed” became a defining moment in the Church because it allowed the sacrament of repentance and readmission to the Church despite issues of sin. This issue caused the Donatist and Novatianist schisms.
Martyrs in the New TestamentThe Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883).
The doctrines of the apostles brought the Early Church into conflict with some Jewish religious leaders. This eventually led to their expulsion from the synagogues. Acts records the martyrdom of the Christian leaders, Stephen and James of Zebedee. The first known Christian martyr was St. Stephen as recorded in the Acts 6:8–8:3, who was stoned to death for his faith. Stephen was killed for his support, belief and faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth as the Messiah. There were probably other early Christian martyrs besides Stephen, since St. Paul acknowledged persecuting Christians before his conversion(Acts 9:1ff.). Traditionally the Massacre of the Innocents is considered the first martyrdom of Christians.
Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire
In its first three centuries, the Christian church endured periods of persecution at the hands of Roman authorities. Christians were persecuted by local authorities on an intermittent and ad-hoc basis. In addition, there were several periods of empire-wide persecution which was directed from the seat of government in Rome.
Christians were the targets of persecution because they refused to worship the Roman gods or to pay homage to the emperor as divine. In the Roman empire, refusing to sacrifice to the Emperor or the empire's gods was tantamount to refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to one's country.
Some early Christians sought out and welcomed martyrdom. Such seeking after death is found in Tertullian's Scorpiace but was certainly not the only view of martyrdom in the Christian church. Both Polycarp and Cyprian, bishops in Smyrna and Carthage respectively, attempted to avoid martyrdom.
While the persecution-martyr theme was prominent in the literature of early Christianity, none of several major martyrologies was finally canonized.
Although the general consensus of scholars is that relatively few Christians were actually executed, the experience of persecution and martyrdom would be memorialized by successive generations of Christians and thereby become a central feature of their self-understanding continuing even to modern times. Thus, many Christians would come to view persecution as an integral part of the Christian experience. The implications of this self-image have had far-reaching ramifications, especially in Western cultures.
This experience, and the associated martyrs and apologists, would have significant historical and theological consequences for the developing faith.
"Persecution was seen by early Christians, as by later historians, as one of the crucial influences on the growth and development of the early Church and Christian beliefs. (Frend) shows how the persecutions formed an essential part in a providential philosophy of history that has profoundly influenced European political thought."
Among other things, persecution sparked the cult of the saints, facilitated the rapid growth and spread of Christianity, prompted defenses and explanations of Christianity (the "apologies") and, in its aftermath, raised fundamental questions about the nature of the church.'Legal basis for persecution'
Due to the informal and personality-driven nature of the Roman justice system, nothing “other than a prosecutor, a charge of Christianity, and a governor willing to punish on that charge” was required to bring a legal case against a Christian. Roman law was largely concerned with property rights, leaving many gaps in criminal and public law. While the well-regulated quaestio system was in place to fill such gaps, it was limited to Rome itself. Thus the process cognitio extra ordinem (“special investigation”) filled the legal void left by both code and court. All provincial governors had the right to run trials in this way as part of their imperium in the province.
In cognitio extra ordinem, an accuser called a delator brought before the governor an individual to be charged with a certain offense -- in this case, that of being a Christian. This delator was prepared to act as the prosecutor for the trial, and could be rewarded with some of the accused’s property if he made an adequate case or charged with calumnia (malicious prosecution) if his case was insufficient. If the governor agreed to hear the case -- and he was free not to -- he oversaw the trial from start to finish: he heard the arguments, decided on the verdict, and passed the sentence. Christians sometimes offered themselves up for punishment, and the hearings of such voluntary martyrs were conducted in the same way.
More often than not, the outcome of the case was wholly subject to the governor’s personal opinion. While some tried to rely on precedent or imperial opinion where they could, as evidenced by Pliny the Younger’s letter to Trajan concerning the Christians, such guidance was often unavailable. In many cases months’ and weeks’ travel away from Rome, these governors had to make decisions about running their provinces according to their own instincts and knowledge.
Even if these governors had easy access to the city, they would not have found much official legal guidance on the matter of the Christians. Before the persecution under Decius beginning in 250 CE, there was no empire-wide edict against the Christians, and the only solid precedent was that set by Trajan in his reply to Pliny: the name of “Christian” alone was sufficient grounds for punishment and Christians were not to be sought out by the government. There is speculation that Christians were also condemned for contumacia -- disobedience toward the magistrate, akin to the modern “contempt of court” -- but the evidence on this matter is mixed. Melito of Sardis later asserted that Antoninus Pius ordered that Christians were not to be executed without proper trial.
Given the lack of guidance and distance of imperial supervision, the outcomes of the trials of Christians varied widely. Many followed Pliny’s formula: they asked if the accused individuals were Christians, gave those who answered in the affirmative a chance to recant, and offered those who denied or recanted a chance to prove their sincerity by making a sacrifice to the Roman gods and swearing by the emperor’s genius. Those who persisted were executed.
Some stern individuals, like the governor P. Aelius Hilarianus who famously sent the Christian Roman citizen Vibia Perpetua to the beasts at Carthage and the unnamed governor who oversaw the persecution of Christians at Lyons and Vienne in 177 CE , were more harsh than circumstances and precedent would have dictated. According to the Christian apologist Tertullian, some governors in Africa helped accused Christians secure acquittals or refused to bring them to trial. The Acts of the Apostles provide evidence that some Roman governors were even intrigued by the teachings of Christianity and found the proponents of this new religion guilty of no crime (Luke 22:24-26). Overall, Roman governors were more interested in making apostates than martyrs: one proconsul of Asia, Arrius Antoninus, when confronted with a group of voluntary martyrs during one of his assize tours, sent a few to be executed and snapped at the rest, “If you want to die, you wretches, you can use ropes or precipices.”
During the Great Persecution which lasted from 303 to 312/313 CE, governors were given direct edicts from the emperor. Christian churches and texts were to be destroyed, meeting for Christian worship was forbidden, and those Christians who refused to recant lost their legal rights. Later, it was ordered that Christian clergy be arrested and that all inhabitants of the empire sacrifice to the gods. Still, no specific punishment was prescribed by these edicts and governors retained the leeway afforded to them by distance. Lactantius reported that some governors claimed to have shed no Christian blood, and there is evidence that others turned a blind eye to evasions of the edict or only enforced it when absolutely necessary. When an edict ordering clemency to jailed Christians was issued, governors eagerly cleared their overcrowded jails.
Public interest in persecution
Without agitation from the public, the Roman government would have had little motivation to persecute local Christians. According to many Christian sources, early hostility against Christians largely came from the Jewish community, which branded them heretics; most of the opposition Paul encountered along his travels in the Acts of the Apostles came from the local synagogue of a city, not the pagan population (Luke 23:13-25; Acts 7:54-60; 9:23-25; 14:1-7; 18:12-17; 24:27). Given Jesus’ contemptuous treatment of temple authorities in the gospels, it is hardly surprising that Jewish religious leaders opposed his followers:
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk all over them without realizing it.” (Luke 11:42-44) (see also: Pharisees)
Christians also aroused suspicion among the pagan population. Accustomed to public displays of religion, pagans found the private practices of Christians highly suspect; it was often believed that they committed flagitia, sclera, and maleficia -- outrageous crimes, wickedness, and evil deeds. Specifically, Christians were most frequently accused of cannibalism and incest -- “Thyestian banquets and Oedipodean intercourse” -- due to their practices of eating the “blood and body” of Christ and referring to each other as “brothers” and “sisters”. Christians’ refusal to participate in communal religion was as problematic to the populace as it was to the elites, and contributed to the general hostility toward Christians. Much of the pagan populace maintained a sense that bad things will happen if the gods are not respected and worshiped properly. "Many pagans held that the neglect of the old gods who had made Rome strong was responsible for the disasters which were overtaking the Mediterranean world." Edward Gibbon wrote:
"They [Christians] dissolved the sacred ties of custom and education, violated the religious institutions of their country, and presumptuously despised whatever their fathers had believed as true, or had reverenced as sacred."
Gibbon argued that the tendency of Christian converts to renounce their family, the common business and pleasures of life, and their inclination to prophesy calamities and disasters instilled a feeling of apprehension in their pagan neighbours. As Christianity became more widespread and better-understood, however, these suspicions faded away.
Persecution as a central theme in Christianity
Elizabeth Castelli asserts that " Christianity itself is founded upon an archetype of religio-political persecution, the execution of Jesus by the Romans." She points out that " the earliest Christians routinely equated Christian identity with suffering persecution" as attested by numerous passages in the New Testament. As examples, she cites the passage in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account”. As another example, she cites the passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus warns his disciples with these words: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15.20).
Michael Gaddis writes:
The Christian experience of violence during the pagan persecutions shaped the ideologies and practices that drove further religious conflicts over the course of the fourth and fifth centuries... The formative experience of martyrdom and persecution determined the ways in which later Christians would both use and experience violence under the Christian empire. Discourses of martyrdom and persecution formed the symbolic language through which Christians represented, justified, or denounced the use of violence."
Gaddis further argues that the advent of monotheistic religion introduced the concept of a cosmic battle between good and evil amongst zealots that engendered a persecution complex inspiring martyrdom. Robin Lane Fox writes: A religion of compromise would not, however, have been a Christian religion. Behind every martyrdom, wether or not the texts chose to dwell on it, lay the self-sacrifice of Jesus himself. To be a Christian, baptised or not, was to recognize the supreme value of this selfless death at the hands of misguided authorities. At its heart Christianity glorified suffering and passive endurance.
The earliest Christian martyrs, tortured and killed by Roman officials enforcing worship of the emperors, won so much fame among their co-religionists that others wished to imitate them to such an extent that a group presented themselves to the governor of Asia, declaring themselves to be Christians, and calling on him to do his duty and put them to death. He executed a few, but as the rest demanded it as well, he responded, exasperated, "You wretches, if you want to die, you have cliffs to leap from and ropes to hang by." This attitude was sufficiently widespread for Church authorities to begin to distinguish sharply "between solicited martyrdom and the more traditional kind that came as a result of persecution". At a Spanish council held at the turn of the 3rd and 4th centuries the bishops denied the crown of martyrdom to those who died whilst attacking pagan temples. According to Ramsey MacMullen the provocation was just “too blatant”. Drake cites this as evidence that Christians resorted to violence, including physical, at all times.
Estimates for total martyred dead for the Great Persecution depend on the report of Eusebius of Caesarea in the Martyrs of Palestine. There are no other viable sources for the total number of martyrdoms in a province. Ancient writers did not think statistically. When the size of a Christian population is described, whether by a pagan, Jewish, or Christian source, it is opinion or metaphor, not accurate reportage.
During the Great Persecution, Eusebius was the bishop of Caesarea Maritima, the capital of Roman Palestine. Since, under Roman law, capital punishment could only be enforced by provincial governors, and because, most of the time, these governors would be in residence at the capital, most martyrdoms would take place within Eusebius' jurisdiction. When they did not, as when the provincial governor traveled to other cities to perform assizes, their activities would be publicized throughout the province. Thus, if Eusebius were an assiduous reporter of the persecutions in his province, he could easily have acquired a full tally of all martyred dead.
Edward Gibbon, after lamenting the vagueness of Eusebius' phrasing, made the first estimate of martyr number as follows: by counting the total number of persons listed in the Martyrs, dividing it by the years covered by Eusebius' text, multiplying it by the fraction of the Roman world the province of Palestine represents, and multiplying that figure by the total period of the persecution. Subsequent estimates have followed the same basic methodology.
Eusebius' aims in the Martyrs of Palestine have been disputed. Geoffrey de Ste Croix, historian and author of a pair of seminal articles on the persecution of Christians in the Roman world, argued, after Gibbon, that Eusebius aimed at producing a full account of the martyrs in his province. Eusebius' aims, Ste Croix argued, were clear from the text of the Martyrs: after describing Caesarea's martyrdoms for 310, the last to have taken place in the city, Eusebius writes, "Such were the martyrdoms which took place at Cæsarea during the entire period of the persecution"; after describing the later mass executions at Phaeno, Eusebius writes, "These martyrdoms were accomplished in Palestine during eight complete years; and of this description was the persecution in our time." Timothy Barnes, however, argues that Eusebius' intent was not as broad as the text cited by Ste Croix implies: "Eusebius himself entitled the work "About those who suffered martyrdom in Palestine," and his intention was to preserve the memories of the martyrs whom he knew, rather than to give a comprehensive account of how persecution affected the Roman province in which he lived." The preface to the long recension of the Martyrs is cited:
It is meet, then, that the conflicts which were illustrious in various districts should be committed to writing by those who dwelt with the combatants in their districts. But for me, I pray that I may be able to speak of those with whom I was personally conversant, and that they may associate me with them – those in whom the whole people of Palestine glories, because even in the midst of our land, the Saviour of all men arose like a thirst-quenching spring. The contests, then, of those illustrious champions I shall relate for the general instruction and profit.
The text discloses unnamed companions of the martyrs and confessors who are the focus of Eusebius' text; these men are not included in the tallies based on the Martyrs.
History of the persecutions
By the mid-2nd century, mobs were willing to throw stones at Christians, and they might be mobilized by rival sects. The Persecution in Lyon was preceded by mob violence, including assaults, robberies and stonings. Lucian tells of an elaborate and successful hoax perpetrated by a "prophet" of Asclepius, using a tame snake, in Pontus and Paphlygonia. When rumor seemed about to expose his fraud, the witty essayist reports in his scathing essay
...he issued a promulgation designed to scare them, saying that Pontus was full of atheists and Christians who had the hardihood to utter the vilest abuse of him; these he bade them drive away with stones if they wanted to have the god gracious.
Further state persecutions were desultory until the 3rd century, though Tertullian's Apologeticus of 197 was ostensibly written in defense of persecuted Christians and addressed to Roman governors. The "edict of Septimius Severus" familiar in Christian history is doubted by some secular historians to have existed outside Christian martyrology. The US Library of Congress reports the edict of 202 as "dissolving the influential Christian School of Alexandria and forbidding future conversions to Christianity." After annexations in Parthia, Severus's son Bassianus (Caracalla) was accorded a triumph "over the Jews", and when the emperor visited Alexandria in 202 he issued an edict forbidding Jewish proselytising and conversions to Judaism, which has been interpreted as having applied to Christians as well. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that the edict "forbade conversion to Christianity under the severest penalties," immediately adding that "Nothing is known as to the execution of the edict in Rome itself nor of the martyrs of the Roman Church in this era."
The first documentable Empire-wide persecution took place under Maximinus Thrax, though only the clergy were sought out.
Christian sources aver that a decree was issued requiring public sacrifice, a formality equivalent to a testimonial of allegiance to the Emperor and the established order. Decius authorized roving commissions visiting the cities and villages to supervise the execution of the sacrifices and to deliver written certificates to all citizens who performed them. Christians were often given opportunities to avoid further punishment by publicly offering sacrifices or burning incense to Roman gods, and were accused by the Romans of impiety when they refused. Refusal was punished by arrest, imprisonment, torture, and executions. Christians fled to safe havens in the countryside and some purchased their certificates, called libelli. Several councils held at Carthage debated the extent to which the community should accept these lapsed Christians.
The persecutions culminated with Diocletian and Galerius at the end of the third and beginning of the 4th century. Their persecution, considered the largest, was to be the last major Roman Pagan persecution, as Constantine I soon came into power and in 313 legalized Christianity. It was not until Theodosius I in the latter 4th century, however, that Christianity would become the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Persecution of early Christians in Judea
Early Christianity began as a sect among early Jews led by Jesus of Nazareth. According to the Canonical gospels, Jesus preached against the growing corruption by religious leaders of the time. He stood up for the poor and oppressed. He socialized with outcasts and healed the sick. More importantly he spoke against the Jewish ruling class (the Herodians) and King Herod who were appointed by Rome to control the people.
However, his harshest criticisms were against the religious leaders whom he condemned as hypocrites. He told the masses their religious leaders sit in Moses’ seat and must be obeyed but not followed for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Jesus said that these hypocrites do everything for show.
They clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence; like whitewashed tombs, which are beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones and rotting flesh, full of hypocrisy and wickedness. This Rabbi from Nazareth said that these holy men appointed by Rome were snakes, a brood of vipers were condemned to hell for betraying God and the people entrusted to their care.
This kind of talk outraged the Sanhedrin and caused Rome much concern. As Jesus grew in popularity, Rome, Herod and the Sanhedrin agreed that this movement must be stopped. After an Incident at the Temple, the Rabbi Jesus was executed, which some consider the beginning of Christian persecution. After his resurrection and ascent, the early Christians preached a Messiah which did not conform to the expectations of the Jews. However, feeling that he was presaged in Isaiah's Suffering Servant and in all of Jewish scripture, Christians had been hopeful that their fellow Jews would accept their vision of a New Jerusalem. Despite many individual conversions, such as Paul and perhaps his teacher Gamaliel, a fierce opposition was found among the Jews.
Dissention began almost immediately with the teachings of Stephen at Jerusalem (unorthodox by contemporaneous Jewish standards), and never ceased entirely while the city remained. A year after the crucifixion of Jesus, Stephen was stoned for his alleged transgression of unorthodoxy, with Saul (who later converted and was renamed Paul) heartily agreeing.
In 41 AD, when Agrippa I, who already possessed the territory of Antipas and Phillip, was named King of the Jews, in a sense re-forming the Kingdom of Herod the Great (Herod was also appointed by the Romans but his kingdom involved more territory and was not yet a Roman province), he was reportedly eager to endear himself to his Jewish subjects and continued the persecution in which James the Lesser lost his life, Peter narrowly escaped and the rest of the apostles took flight.
After Agrippa's death in 44, the Roman procuratorship resumed (or technically began, the previous Roman governors being Prefects) and those leaders maintained a neutral peace, until the procurator Festus died and the high priest Annas II took advantage of the power vacuum to attack the Christians and executed James the Greater. The New Testament states that Paul was himself imprisoned on several occasions by Roman authorities, stoned by Pharisees and left for dead on one occasion, and was eventually taken as a prisoner to Rome. Peter and other early Christians were also imprisoned, beaten and harassed. A Jewish revolt, spurred by the Roman killing of 3,000 Jews, led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, an end of sacrificial Judaism (until the Third Temple), and the disempowering of the Jewish persecutors; the Christian community, meanwhile, having fled to safety in the already pacified region of Pella. The early persecution by the Jews is estimated to have a death toll of about 2,000. The Jewish persecutions were trivial when compared with the brutal and widespread persecution by the Romans.
Of the eleven remaining apostles (Judas Iscariot having killed himself), only one—John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee and the younger brother of the Apostle James—died of natural causes in exile. The other ten were reportedly martyred by various means including beheading, by sword and spear and, in the case of Peter, crucifixion upside down following the execution of his wife. The Romans were involved in some of these persecutions.
The New Testament, especially the Gospel of John, has traditionally been interpreted as relating Christian accounts of the Pharisee rejection of Jesus and accusations of the Pharisee responsibility for his crucifixion. The Acts of the Apostles depicts instances of early Christian persecution by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious court of the time.
Persecution from 64-250 CE
Prior to Nero's accusation of arson and subsequent persecution of Christians in 64 CE, all animosity was apparently limited to intramural Jewish hostility. It is generally agreed that from Nero's reign until Decius's widespread measures in 250 CE, the persecution of Christians by Romans was limited to isolated, local incidents. Although it is often claimed that Christians were persecuted for their refusal to worship the emperor, general dislike for Christian likely arose from their refusal to worship the gods or take part in sacrifice, which was expected of those living in the Roman Empire. Although the Jews also refused to partake in these actions, it seems that they were tolerated because they followed their own Jewish ceremonial law, and their religion was legitimized by its ancestral nature. On the other hand, they believed Christians, who were believed to take part in strange rituals and nocturnal rites, cultivated a dangerous and superstitious sect.
During this time period, persecution was accusatory and not inquisitive. Governors played a larger role in the persecution than did Emperors, but Christians were not sought out by governors, and instead accused and prosecuted thorough a process termed cognitio extra ordinem. No reliable, extant description of a Christian trial exists, but evidence shows that trials and punishments varied greatly, and sentences ranged from acquittal to death.
Under Nero A Christian Dirce, by Henryk Siemiradzki. A Christian woman is martyred in a re-enactment of the myth of Dirce (murdered by being tied to the horns of a bull), while emperor Nero looks on (central figure).
Evidence from ancient documents suggests that the persecution of Christians by the Roman government did not occur until the reign of Nero. In 64 AD, a great fire broke out in Rome, destroying portions of the city and economically devastating the Roman population. Tacitus records (Annals 15.44) that Nero was rumored to have ordered the fire himself, and in order to dispel the accusations, accused and savagely punished the already-detested Christians. Suetonis mentions that Christians were killed under Nero's reign, but does not mention anything about the fire (Nero 16.2) Scholars disagree about whether Christians were persecuted solely under the charge of organized arson or for other general crimes associated with Christianity.
Because Tertullian mentions an institutum Neronianum in his apology “To the Nations”, scholars also debate the possibility of a creation of a law or decree against the Christians under Nero. However, it has been argued that in context, the institutum Neronianum merely describes the persecutions; it does not provide a legal basis for them. Furthermore, no known writers show knowledge of a law against Christians. Christian writers claim that the apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul were martyred in Rome during this persecution; the only evidence for this claim is derived from later martyrologies.
According to some historians, Jews and Christians were heavily persecuted toward the end of Domitian's reign (89-96). The Book of Revelation, which mentions at least one instance of martyrdom (Rev 2:13; cf. 6:9), is thought by many scholars to have been written during Domitian's reign. Eusebius, a scholar of biblical canon, wrote that the social conflict described by Revalation reflects Domitian's organization of excessive and cruel banishments and executions of Christians, but these claims may be exaggerated or false. Many historians, however, have maintained that there was little or no persecution of Christians during Domitian's time. The lack of consensus by historians about the extent of persecution during the reign of Domitian derives from the fact that while accounts of persecution exist, these accounts are very cursory or their reliability is debated.
Often, reference is made to the execution of Flavius Clemens, a Roman consul and cousin of the Emperor, and the banishment of his wife, Flavia Domitilla, to the island of Pandateria. Eusebius alleges that Flavia Domitilla was banished because she was a Christian, leading some modern interpreters to suggest the same. However, Dio's account 67.14.1-2) only reports that she, along with many others, was guilty of sympathy for Judaism, and Suetonis does not mention the exile at all. According to Keresztes, it is far more probable is that they were converts to Judaism who attempted to evade payment of the Fiscus Iudaicus - the tax imposed on all persons who practiced Judaism. (262-265). In any case, no stories of Christian persecution during Domitian's reign reference any sort of legal ordinances.
Between 109 and 111 AD, Pliny the Younger was sent by the emperor Trajan (r. 98-117) to the province of Bithynia (in Anatolia) as governor, and their correspondence is considered a valuable historical source. In one of his letters (Letter 10.96), he inquires about both the charge against and the punishment for Christians. While some scholars believe that this inquiry shows that Christians had been persecuted in the past, others find that this shows they were accused but not persecuted. Because the letter also raises the question about whether Christians should be persecuted for their rumored terrible deeds they (flagitia) their Christianity itself (Superstitio); there is no scholarly consensus on Pliny's beliefs on the matter. The correspondence also shows that Trajan gave no definite rules or laws about the persecution of Christians and did not wish to seek out Christians or accept anonymous delations.<Timothy D. Barnes, Chapter 11 ("Persecution") in Tertullian (1971, revised 1985). pp. 145-146.</ref> Many scholars believe that this order was often ignored in the provinces, and Christians were anonymously delated?. The letter also shows that Christians were only tested and forced to perform sacrifices only once they were accused, evidencing the accusatory rather than inquisitory nature of the persecution of Christians before 250 CE.
Under Marcus Aurelius to Maximinus the Thracian Amphithéâtre des Trois-Gaules, in Lyon. The pole in the arena is a memorial to the people killed during this persecution.
Sporadic bouts of persecution against Christians occurred during the period from the reign of Marcus Aurelius to that of Maximinus. Governors continued to play a more important role than emperors in this persecution, but some of the emperors who immediately preceded Decius have been said to have passed decrees or laws concerning Christianity: for instance, Marcus Aurelius a universal mandate for public sacrifice, or Septimius Severus a law prohibiting conversion to Christianity. These may be fictitious, reflecting later laws and edicts from the reign of Decius onward.
In the first half of the third century, the relation of Imperial policy and ground-level actions against Christians remained much the same:
It was pressure from below, rather than imperial initiative, that gave rise to troubles, breaching the generally prevailing but nevertheless fragile, limits of Roman tolerance: the official attitude was passive until activated to confront particular cases and this activation normally was confined to the local and provincial level.
Apostasy in the form of symbolic sacrifice continued to be enough to set a Christian free. It was standard practice to imprison a Christian after an initial trial, with pressure and an opportunity to recant. Even then many Christians may have been released as “hopelessly recalcitrant”.
Aurelius is said to have passed a law that “ordered the penalty of relegation to an island to be applied to anyone who did anything to alarm the fickle minds of men with dread of the supernatural”, but there is no record of Christians being punished under this provision. One of the most notable instances of persecution during the reign of Aurelius occurred in 177 at Lugdunum (present-day Lyons, France), where the Sanctuary of the Three Gauls had been established by Augustus in the late 1st century BC. The sole account is preserved by Eusebius. The persecution in Lyons started as an unofficial movement to ostracize Christians from public spaces such as the market and the baths, but eventually resulted in official action. Christians were arrested, tried in the forum, and subsequently imprisoned. They were condemned to various punishments: being fed to the beasts, torture, and the poor living conditions of imprisonment. Slaves belonging to Christians testified that their masters participated in incest and cannibalism. Barnes cites this persecution as the “one example of suspected Christians being punished even after apostasy.”
In the early third century, during the reign of Septimius Severus, Egypt and Africa became a hotbed of persecution and martyrdom. In the view of Eusebius, “when Severus was stirring up persecution against the churches, in every place splendid martyrdoms of the athletes of piety were accomplished”. It is unclear, however, whether these persecutions can be tied to Severus himself. Among those Alexandrians named as martyrs by Eusebius are followers of Origen (martyred ca. 206-211), as well as Origen’s father Leonides (ca. 202). The famous martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas took place elsewhere in Africa, in Carthage (ca 202-204). The procurator Hilarianus tried to make Perpetua perform a symbolic sacrifice for the sake of her father. Official thinking was that Perpetua could carry out the rituals required to affirm a citizen's loyalty to the emperor and Rome, and remain free to continue any private religious practices of her choice.
Other instances of persecution occurred before the reign of Decius, but there are fewer accounts of them from 215 onward. This may reflect a decrease in hostility toward Christianity, or gaps in the available sources. Perhaps the most famous of these post-Severan persecutions are those attributed to Maximinus the Thracian. According to Eusebius, a persecution undertaken by Maximinus against heads of the church in 235 sent both Hippolytus and Pope Pontian into exile on Sardinia. Other evidence suggests the persecution of 235 was local to Cappadocia and Pontus, and not set in motion by the emperor.
It was not until the reign of Decius that a persecution of Christian laity across the Empire took place. The History of the Franks, written in the decade before 594 by Gregory of Tours, glosses the persecutions:
Under the emperor Decius many persecutions arose against the name of Christ, and there was such a slaughter of believers that they could not be numbered. Babillas, bishop of Antioch, with his three little sons, Urban, Prilidan and Epolon, and Xystus, bishop of Rome, Laurentius, an archdeacon, and Hyppolitus, were made perfect by martyrdom because they confessed the name of the Lord. Valentinian and Novatian were then the chief heretics and were active against our faith, the enemy urging them on. At this time seven men were ordained as bishops and sent into the Gauls to preach, as the history of the martyrdom of the holy martyr Saturninus relates. For it says: " In the consulship of Decius and Gratus, as faithful memory recalls, the city of Toulouse received the holy Saturninus as its first and greatest bishop." These bishops were sent: bishop Catianus to Tours; bishop Trophimus to Arles; bishop Paul to Narbonne; bishop Saturninus to Toulouse; bishop Dionisius to Paris; bishop Stremonius to Clermont, bishop Martial to Limoges.
The career and writings of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, throw light on the aftermath of the Decian persecutions in the Carthaginian Christian community.
The persecution under Decius was the first universal and organized persecution of Christians, and it would have lasting significance for the Christian church. In January 250, Decius issued an edict requiring all citizens to sacrifice to the emperor in the presence of a Roman official and obtain a certificate (libellus) proving they had done so.
In general, public opinion condemned the government's violence and admired the martyrs' passive resistance, and the Christian movement was thereby strengthened. The Decian persecution ceased in 251, a few months before Decius' death. The Decian persecution had lasting repercussions for the church. How should those who had bought a certificate or actually sacrificed be treated? It seems that in most churches, those who had lapsed were accepted back into the fold, but some groups refused them admission to the church. This raised important issues about the nature of the church, forgiveness, and the high value of martyrdom. A century and a half later, St. Augustine would battle with an influential group called the Donatists, who broke away from the Catholic Church because the latter embraced the lapsed.
Under Valerian, who took the throne in 253, all Christian clergy were required to sacrifice to the gods. In a 257 edict, the punishment was exile; in 258, the punishment was death. Christian senators, knights and ladies were also required to sacrifice under pain of heavy fines, reduction of rank and, later, death. Finally, all Christians were forbidden to visit their cemeteries. Among those executed under Valerian were St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, and Sixtus II, Bishop of Rome, and possibly also Antipope Novatian. According to a letter written by Dionysus during this time, "men and women, young and old, maidens and matrons, soldiers and civilians, of every age and race, some by scourging and fire, others by the sword, have conquered in the strife and won their crowns." The persecution ended with the capture of Valerian by Persia. Valerian's son and successor, Gallienus, revoked the edicts of his father.
A warrant to arrest a Christian, dated 28 February 256, was found among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (P. Oxy 3035). The grounds for the arrest are not given in the document.
Under Diocletian and Galerius
Diocletian's accession in 284 did not mark an immediate reversal of disregard to Christianity, but it did herald a gradual shift in official attitudes toward religious minorities. In the first fifteen years of his rule, Diocletian purged the army of Christians, condemned Manicheans to death, and surrounded himself with public opponents of Christianity. Diocletian's preference for activist government, combined with his self-image as a restorer of past Roman glory, presaged the most pervasive persecution in Roman history. In the winter of 302, Galerius urged Diocletian to begin a general persecution of the Christians. Diocletian was wary, and asked the oracle of Apollo for guidance. The oracle's reply was read as an endorsement of Galerius's position, and a general persecution was called on February 24, 303.
Persecutory policies varied in intensity across the empire. Where Galerius and Diocletian were avid persecutors, Constantius was unenthusiastic. Later persecutory edicts, including the calls for universal sacrifice, were not applied in his domain. His son, Constantine, on taking the imperial office in 306, restored Christians to full legal equality and returned property that had been confiscated during the persecution. In Italy in 306, the usurper Maxentius ousted Maximian's successor Severus, promising full religious toleration. Galerius ended the persecution in the East in 311, but it was resumed in Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor by his successor, Maximinus. Constantine and Licinius, Severus's successor, signed the "Edict of Milan" in 313, which offered a more comprehensive acceptance of Christianity than Galerius's edict had provided. Licinius ousted Maximinus in 313, bringing an end to persecution in the East.
The persecution failed to check the rise of the church. By 324, Constantine was sole ruler of the empire, and Christianity had become his favored religion. Although the persecution resulted in the deaths of—according to one modern estimate—3,000 Christians, and the torture, imprisonment, or dislocation of many more, most Christians avoided punishment. The persecution did, however, cause many churches to split between those who had complied with imperial authority (the traditores), and those who had remained "pure". Certain schisms, like those of the Donatists in North Africa and the Meletians in Egypt, persisted long after the persecutions. The Donatists would not be reconciled to the Catholic Church until after 411. In the centuries that followed, some Christians created a "cult of the martyrs", and exaggerated the barbarity of the persecutory era. These accounts were criticized during the Enlightenment and after, most notably by Edward Gibbon. Modern historians like G. E. M. de Ste. Croix have attempted to determine whether Christian sources exaggerated the scope of the Diocletianic persecution.
Under Julian the Apostate
Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of the Roman Empire, was brought up during a time that paganism was in decline in Rome. Upon being proclaimed Augustus in 361 AD, Julian immediately declared his faith to the old Roman Gods and began to bring about a pagan revival. However, he was killed in Persia in 363 AD and his attempt to restore paganism ultimately failed.
Julian used many methods to subtly break the Church. He recalled bishops who had previously been exiled for heretical teachings, stripped clergy of their rights to travel at the expense of the state as they had done previously.
Catholic Sex Abuse Cases
The Catholic sex abuse cases are a series of convictions, trials and ongoing investigations into allegations of sex crimes committed by Catholic priests and active members of Roman Catholic orders against children as young as 3 years old with the majority between the ages of 10 and 16. These cases began receiving public attention beginning in the mid-1980s with new cases still being brought forward with the first reported cases in the 1950's. There have been criminal prosecutions of the abusers and civil lawsuits against the church's dioceses and parishes.
In addition to cases of sodomy, oral penetration, and lewd and sexual acts against a minor, cases have been brought forth against members of the Catholic hierarchy who did not report abuse allegations to the civil authorities. In many cases they deliberately moved sexually abusive priests to other locations where the clergy continued their acts of sexual aggression towards minors. – this has led to a number of fraud cases in the United States, where the Church has been accused of misleading victims by deliberately relocating priests accused of abuse instead of removing them from their positions. In defending their actions, some bishops and psychiatrists contended that the prevailing psychology decades ago suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling. This is opposed by the finding that Gerald Fitzgerald, "the founder of a religious order that treats Roman Catholic priests who molest children concluded in the 1950s that offenders were unlikely to change and should not be returned to ministry," and this was discussed with Pope Paul VI (1897 – 1978) and "in correspondence with several bishops."
Sexual abuse of children under the age of consent by priests receives significant media and public attention in Canada, Ireland, the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Belgium, France, and Germany, while cases have been reported throughout the world. Many of the cases span several decades and are brought forward years after the abuse occurred. In response to this attention, members of the church hierarchy have argued that media coverage has been excessive.
BishopAccountability.org, an "online archive established by lay Catholics," reports that over 3,000 "civil lawsuits have been filed against the church" in the United States, some of these cases have resulted in multi-million dollar settlements with many claimants. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas paid $30.9 million in 1998 to twelve victims of one priest ($44.1 million in present-day terms). In July 2003 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville paid $25.7 million to "settle child sexual-abuse allegations made in 240 lawsuits naming 34 priests and other church workers." In 2003 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston also settled a large case for $85 million with 552 alleged victims. In 2004, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange settled nearly 90 cases for $100 million. In April 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon agreed to a $75 million settlement with 177 claimants and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle agreed to a $48 million settlement with more than 160 victims. In July 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a $660 million agreement with more than 500 alleged victims, in December 2006, the archdiocese had a settlement of 45 lawsuits for $60 million. In September 2007 the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego reached a $198.1 million "agreement with 144 childhood sexual abuse victims." In July 2008 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver agreed "to pay $5.5 million to settle 18 claims of childhood sexual abuse." The Associate Press estimated the total from settlements of sex abuse cases from 1950-2007 to be more than $2 billion. According to BishopAccountability reports that figure reached more than $3 billion in 2012. Addressing "a flood of abuse claims" five dioceses (Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon.; Davenport, Iowa, and San Diego) got bankruptcy protection. Eight Catholic diocese have declared bankruptcy due to sex abuse cases from 2004-2011.
Scope and nature
In a statement read out by Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi in September 2009, the Church stated "We know now that in the last 50 years somewhere between 1.5% and 5% of the Catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases". A Perspective on Clergy Sexual Abuse by Dr. Thomas Plante of Santa Clara University and volunteer clinical associate professor at Stanford University states that "approximately 4% of priests during the past half century (and mostly in the 1960s and 1970s) have had a sexual experience with a minor" Additionally, according to Newsweek magazine, the figure in the Catholic Church is similar to that in the rest of the adult population.
Allegations of and convictions for sexual abuse by clergy have been subjects of public debate in many countries (Google Roman Catholic sex abuse cases by country). In 2002 The Boston Globe reported "clearly the issue has been most prominent in the United States." The United States is the country with the highest number of Catholic Sex Abuse cases leading Thomas Plante to surmise that the "crisis in the United States reached epidemic proportions within the Church, the likes of which haven't been witnessed before." After the United States, the country with the next highest number of reported cases is Ireland. A significant number of cases have also been reported in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and countries in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia.
In 2004, the John Jay report tabulated a total of 4,392 priests and deacons in the U.S. against whom allegations of sexual abuse had been made.
Although the scandals in the U.S. and Ireland unfolded over approximately the same time period, there are some significant differences between them. In the United States, most of the abusers were parish priests under diocesan control. While there were also a significant number of abuse cases involving parish priests in Ireland, another major scandal involved criminal abuse committed by members of religious orders working in Catholic-run institutions such as orphanages and reform schools. In the United States, the abuse was primarily sexual in nature and involved mostly boys between the ages of 10 and 16; in Ireland, the allegations involved both physical and sexual abuse, and children of both sexes were involved, although a large majority were male.
The 2004 John Jay Report commissioned and funded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was based on voluntar surveys completed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. The surveys filtered provided information from diocesan files on each priest accused of sexual abuse and on each of the priest's victims to the research team, in a format which did not disclose the names of the accused priests or the dioceses where they worked. The dioceses were encouraged to issue reports of their own based on the surveys that they had completed.
The 2004 John Jay Report was based on a study of 10,667 allegations against 4,392 priests accused of engaging in sexual abuse of a minor between 1950 and 2002.
The report stated there were approximately 10,667 reported victims (younger than 18 years) of clergy sexual abuse during this period:
- Around 81% of these victims were male.
- 22.6% were age 10 or younger, 51% were between the ages of 11 and 14, and 27% were between the ages to 15 to 17 years.
- A substantial number (almost 2000) of very young children were victimized by priests during this time period.
- 9,281 victim surveys had information about an investigation. In 6,696 (72%) cases, an investigation of the allegation was carried out. Of these, 4,570 (80%) were substantiated; 1,028 (18%) were unsubstantiated; 83 (1.5%) were found to be false. In 56 cases, priests were reported to deny the allegations.
- More than 10 percent of these allegations were characterized as not substantiated. (This does not mean that the allegation was false; it means only that the diocese or order could not determine whether the alleged abuse actually took place.)
- For approximately 20 percent of the allegations, the priest was deceased or inactive at the time of the receipt of the allegation and typically no investigation was conducted in these circumstances.
- In 38.4% of allegations, the abuse is alleged to have occurred within a single year, in 21.8% the alleged abuse lasted more than a year but less than 2 years, in 28% between 2 and 4 years, in 10.2% between 5 and 9 years and, in under 1%, 10 or more years.
The 4,392 priests who were accused amount to approximately 4% of the 109,694 priests in active ministry during that time. Of these 4,392, approximately:
- 56 percent had one reported allegation against them; 27 percent had two or three allegations against them; nearly 14 percent had four to nine allegations against them; 3 percent (149 priests) had 10 or more allegations against them. These 149 priests were responsible for almost 3,000 victims, or 27 percent of the allegations.
- The allegations were substantiated for 1,872 priests and unsubstantiated for 824 priests. They were thought to be credible for 1,671 priests and not credible for 345 priests. 298 priests and deacons who had been completely exonerated are not included in the study.
- 50 percent were 35 years of age or younger at the time of the first instance of alleged abuse.
- Almost 70 percent were ordained before 1970.
- Fewer than 7 percent were reported to have themselves been victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children. Although 19 percent had alcohol or substance abuse problems, 9 percent were reported to have been using drugs or alcohol during the instances of abuse.
Many of the reported acts of sexual abuse involved fondling or unspecified abuse. There was also a large number of allegations of forced acts of oral sex and intercourse. Detailed information on the nature of the abuse was not reported for 26.6% of the reported allegations. 27.3% of the allegations involved the cleric performing oral sex on the victim. 25.1% of the allegations involved penile penetration or attempted penetration.
Although there were reported acts of sexual abuse of minors in every year, the incidence of reported abuse increased by several orders of magnitude in the 1960s and 1970s. There was, for example, a more than sixfold increase in the number of reported acts of abuse of males aged 11 to 17 between the 1950s and the 1970s. After peaking in the 1970s, the number of incidents decreased through the 1980s and 1990s even more sharply than the incidence rate had increased in the 1960s and 1970s.
BishopAccountability.org, an "online archive established by lay Catholics," reports that over 3,000 "civil lawsuits have been filed against the church" in the United States, some of these cases have resulted in multi-million dollar settlements with many claimants. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas paid $30.9 million in 1998 to twelve victims of one priest. In July 2003 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville paid $25.7 million to "settle child sexual-abuse allegations made in 240 lawsuits naming 34 priests and other church workers." In 2003 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston also settled a large case for $85 million with 552 alleged victims. In 2004, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange settled nearly 90 cases for $100 million. In April 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon agreed to a $75 million settlement with 177 claimants and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle agreed to a $48 million settlement with more than 160 victims. In July 2007 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles reached a $660 million agreement with more than 500 alleged victims, in December 2006, the archdiocese had a settlement of 45 lawsuits for $60 million. In September 2007 the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego reached a $198.1 million "agreement with 144 childhood sexual abuse victims." In July 2008 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver agreed "to pay $5.5 million to settle 18 claims of childhood sexual abuse." The Associate Press estimated the total from settlements of sex abuse cases from 1950-2007 to be more than $2 billion. According to BishopAccountability reports that figure reached more than $3 billion in 2012. Addressing "a flood of abuse claims" five dioceses (Tucson, Arizona; Spokane, Washington; Portland, Oregon.; Davenport, Iowa, and San Diego) got bankruptcy protection. Eight Catholic diocese have declared bankruptcy due to sex abuse cases from 2004-2011.
John L. Allen, Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, has commented that many American Catholics saw the Vatican’s initial silence on the Boston Globe stories as showing a lack of concern or awareness about the issue. However, Allen said that he doesn't know anyone in the Roman Curia, who was not at least horrified "by the revelations that came out of the Globe and elsewhere" or who would defend "Cardinal Law’s handling of the cases in Boston" or "the rather shocking lack of oversight that revealed itself" though "they might have different analyses of what should have happened to him". Allen described the Vatican's perspective as being somewhat skeptical of the media handling of the scandal. In addition, he asserted that the Vatican viewed American cultural attitudes toward sexuality as being somewhat hysterical as well as exhibiting a lack of understanding of the Catholic Church.
No one [in the Vatican] thinks the sexual abuse of kids is unique to the States, but they do think that the reporting on it is uniquely American, fueled by anti-Catholicism and shyster lawyers hustling to tap the deep pockets of the church. And that thinking is tied to the larger perception about American culture, which is that there is a hysteria when it comes to anything sexual, and an incomprehension of the Catholic Church. What that means is that Vatican officials are slower to make the kinds of public statements that most American Catholics want, and when they do make them they are tentative and halfhearted. It's not that they don't feel bad for the victims, but they think the clamor for them to apologize is fed by other factors that they don't want to capitulate to.
According to Allen, cultural differences between the Vatican and American Catholics complicated the process of formulating a comprehensive response to the sexual abuse scandal: "there is a lot about the American culture and the American Church that puzzles people in the Vatican, and there is much about the Vatican that puzzles Americans and English speakers generally."
Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, sent a letter which became known as the Crimen sollicitationis. In this letter, addressed to "all Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops and other Local Ordinaries, including those of Eastern Rite", the Holy Office laid down procedures to be followed in dealing with cases of clerics (priests or bishops) of the Catholic Church accused of having used the sacrament of Penance to make sexual advances to penitents; its rules were more specific than the generic ones in the Code of Canon Law. In addition, it instructed that the same procedures be used when dealing with denunciations of homosexual, paedophile or zoophile behaviour by clerics. It repeated the rule that any Catholic who failed for over a month to denounce a priest who had made such advances in connection with confession was automatically excommunicated and could be absolved only after actually denouncing the priest to the Ordinary of the place or to the Holy Congregation of the Holy Office, or at least promising seriously to do so.
The Vatican promulgated a revised Code of Canon Law which included a canon (1395,§2) which explicitly named sex with a minor by clerics as a canonical crime "to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants". According to De delictis gravioribus, the letter sent on 18 May 2001 by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Crimen Sollicitationis was in force until May 2001.
On April 30, Pope John Paul II issued a letter stating that "a sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue by a cleric with a minor under 18 years of age is to be considered a grave sin, or 'delictum gravius.'" In the letter, Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (Safeguarding the Sanctity of the Sacraments), "§1 Reservation to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is also extended to a delict against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue committed by a cleric with a minor below the age of eighteen years. §2 One who has perpetrated the delict mentioned in §1 is to be punished according to the gravity of the offense, not excluding dismissal or deposition." In other words, the CDF was given a broader mandate to address the sex abuse cases only from 2001. All priestly sex crimes cases were to be placed under the CDF which, in most cases, would authorize the bishops to conduct trials themselves.
The "Guide to Understanding Basic CDF Procedures concerning Sexual Abuse Allegations" explain briefly the procedures which have been derived from the 1983 Code of Canon Law and put in place since April 30 (the same day). Among the points made:
- Every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest is investigated by the local diocese and, if there is even a “semblance of truth” the case is referred to the Vatican CDF. “The local bishop always retains power to protect children by restricting the activities of any priest in his diocese.”
- Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.
- The CDF may authorise the local bishop to try the case. If a priest (who has the right of appeal to the CDF) is found guilty, a number of canonical penalties are possible, including dismissal from the clerical state. “The question of damages can also be treated directly during these procedures.”
- Some cases can be referred directly to the Pope, who can issue a decree of dismissal from the priesthood ex officio.
- Other disciplinary measures short of dismissal are available where the priest has undertaken to live a life of prayer and penance, but he can be dismissed if he breaks the conditions imposed.
- The CDF continues to update the 2001 law (Motu Proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis tutela) in the light of special faculties granted to the CDF by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
In May, in line with the 1983 Code of Canon Law and the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, a letter from the CDF was sent to the Catholic bishops.
The Vatican instituted reforms to prevent future United States abuse by requiring background checks for all church employees who have contact with children. Since then, in the USA alone, over 2 million volunteers and employees; 52,000 clerics; 6,205 candidates for ordination have had their backgrounds evaluated.
In June, the USCCB established the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People", a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. (More details in the Episcopal Responses section above.)
Pope John Paul II stated that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young".
In April, the Pontifical Academy for Life organized a three-day conference, entitled "Abuse of Children and Young People by Catholic Priests and Religious", where eight non-Catholic psychiatric experts were invited to speak to near all Vatican dicasteries' representatives. The panel of experts overwhelmingly opposed implementation of policies of "zero-tolerance" such as was proposed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. One expert called such policies a "case of overkill" since they do not permit flexibility to allow for differences among individual cases.
In June, a Louisville, Kentucky lawyer William McMurry filed suit against the Vatican on behalf of three men alleging abuse as far back as 1928, accusing Church leaders of organizing a cover up of cases of sexual abuse of children.
In August Pope Benedict was personally accused in a lawsuit of conspiring to cover up the molestation of three boys in Texas by Juan Carlos Patino-Arango in Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. He sought and obtained immunity from prosecution as head of state. Some have claimed that this immunity was granted after intervention by then US President George W. Bush.The Department of State "recognize[d] and allow[ed] the immunity of Pope Benedict XVI from this suit."
In November the Vatican published Criteria for the Discernment of Vocation for Persons with Homosexual Tendencies, issuing new rules which forbid ordination of men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies". The US National Review Board cited the preponderance of adolescent males among the victims of clerical sexual abuse of minors in its report. This attracted criticism based on an interpretation that the document implies that homosexuality is associated with pedophilia or ephebophilia.
Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, secretary of the Congregation for Clergy, put the following question to the experts: "[T]o what degree one can talk about the rehabilitation of the offender, what are the most effective methods of treatment, and on what grounds we can say that a person who has never offended is at risk to sexually molest someone?"
Ternyak spoke about the way that the crisis had damaged the priest-bishop relationship. He noted that there was a "sense of gloom" felt by the overwhelming majority of priests who had not been accused of any abuse but nonetheless who perceived that their bishops had turned against them and therefore had "become disillusioned about the effectiveness of the laws of the Church to defend their dignity and their inalienable rights". Ternyak also noted that "there have been more than a few suicides among accused priests."
In April, during a visit to the United States, Pope Benedict admitted that he was "deeply ashamed" of the clergy sex abuse scandal that has devastated the American church. Benedict pledged that pedophiles would not be priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Benedict also said he is ashamed for child abuse scandal in Australia. In November the United States Court of Appeals in Cincinnati denied the Vatican's claim of sovereign immunity and allowed a lawsuit against the Catholic Church government by three men who claim they were sexually abused as children by priests in the Louisville, Ky., USA archdiocese to proceed. The Vatican did not appeal the ruling.
Two researchers reported that abuse cases had "steeply declined" after 1985 and that responses to abuse had changed substantially over 50 years, with suspension becoming more common than reinstatement.
In a statement, read out by Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 22 September 2009, the Holy See stated that the majority of Catholic clergy who had committed acts of sexual abuse against under 18 year olds should not be viewed as paedophiles, but as homosexuals who are attracted to sex with adolescent males. The statement said that rather than paedophilia, "it would be more correct to speak of ephebophilia; being a homosexual attraction to adolescent males[...] Of all priests involved in the abuses, 80 to 90% belong to this sexual orientation minority which is sexually engaged with adolescent boys between the ages of 11 and 17."
However, Margaret Smith and Karen Terry, two researchers who worked on the John Jay Report, cautioned against equating the high incidence of abuse by priests against boys with homosexuality, calling it an oversimplification and “an unwarranted conclusion”, as “participation in homosexual acts is not the same as sexual identity as a gay man.” Tomasi's move angered many gay rights organisations, who claimed it was an attempt by the Vatican to redefine the Church's past problems with paedophilia as problems with homosexuality.
The empirical research shows that sexual orientation does not affect the likelihood that people will abuse children. Many child molesters cannot be characterized as having an adult sexual orientation at all; they are fixated on children.
In April 2010, in response to extensive negative publicity and criticism of the Pope, the Vatican entered what the Associated Press called "full damage control mode". Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, during a visit to Chile, linked the scandal to homosexuality. In response to widespread criticism of that statement, Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi said Bertone's statement went outside the remit of church authorities while maintaining that "the statement was aimed at 'clarifying' Cardinal Bertone's remarks and should not be seen as the Holy See 'distancing' itself from them." He also noted that 10 per cent of the cases concerned paedophilia in the "strict sense" and the other 90 per cent concerned sex between priests and adolescents. Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, said the continuing criticism of Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican in handling the clerical sex abuse crisis is part of a media campaign to sell newspapers. The Pope issued a statement that the "Church must do penance for abuse cases".
Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna explained in an interview with the Italian newspaper "Avvenire": "Between 1975 and 1985 I do not believe that any cases of pedophilia committed by priests were brought to the attention of our Congregation. Moreover, following the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there was a period of uncertainty as to which of the "delicta graviora" were reserved to the competency of this dicastery. Only with the 2001 "Motu Proprio" did the crime of pedophilia again become our exclusive remit... In the years (2001–2010) the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) had "considered accusations concerning around three thousand cases of diocesan and religious priests, which refer to crimes committed over the last fifty years."
In July 2010 the Vatican issued a document to clarify their position. They doubled the length of time after the 18th birthday of the victim that clergymen can be tried in a church court and to streamline the processes for removing pedophile priests. However the new rules are less strict than those already in place in the United States and lack the clarity that pedophilia is a civil offense of the existing rules there.
On May 16, 2011 the Vatican published new guidelines, drawn up by Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, on dealing with the clergy sexual abuse cases. The guidelines tell the bishops and heads of Catholic religious orders worldwide to develop "clear and coordinated" procedures for dealing with the sexual abuse allegation by May 2012. The guidelines instruct the bishops to cooperate with the police and respect the relevant local laws in investigating and reporting allegations of sexual abuse by the clergy to the civic authorities, but do not make such reporting mandatory. The guidelines also reinforce bishops' exclusive authority in dealing with abuse cases. Victims advocacy groups criticized the new guidelines as insufficient, arguing that the recommendations do not have the status of church law and do not provide any specific enforcement mechanisms.
BBC Documentary(2006) On Sex Crimes And The Vatican
Produced by a victim of clerical sex abuse for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2006, the documentary Sex Crimes and the Vatican included the claim that all allegations of sex abuse are to be sent to the Vatican rather than the civil authorities, and that "a secret church decree called 'Crimen sollicitationis' ... imposes the strictest oath of secrecy on the child victim, the priest dealing with the allegation, and any witnesses. Breaking that oath means instant banishment from the Catholic Church - excommunication." The documentary quoted the 2005 Ferns Report: "A culture of secrecy and fear of scandal that led bishops to place the interests of the Catholic Church ahead of the safety of children".
Canon lawyer Thomas Doyle, who was included in the documentary as supporting the picture that it presented, later wrote with regard to the 1962 Crimen sollicitations and the 2001 De delictis gravioribus, and the Church's formal investigation into charges of abuse: "There is no basis to assume that the Holy See envisioned this process to be a substitute for any secular legal process, criminal or civil. It is also incorrect to assume, as some have unfortunately done, that these two Vatican documents are proof of a conspiracy to hide sexually abusive priests or to prevent the disclosure of sexual crimes committed by clerics to secular authorities."However, two years later in 2008 Doyle said of attempts to reform the Catholic Church that it was like "trudging through what can best be described as a swamp of toxic waste".
The Church was reluctant to hand over to the civil authorities information about the Church's own investigations into charges. In the BBC documentary, Rick Romley, a district attorney who initiated an investigation of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, stated that "the secrecy, the obstruction I saw during my investigation was unparalleled in my entire career as a DA...it was so difficult to obtain any information from the Church at all." He reported archives of documents and incriminating evidence pertaining to sex abuse that were kept from the authorities, which under the law could not be subpoenaed. "The Church fails to acknowledge such a serious problem but more than that, it is not a passiveness but an openly obstructive way of not allowing authorities to try to stop the abuse within the Church. They fought us every step of the way."
Debate over causesSeminary training
The 2004 John Jay Report stated "the problem was largely the result of poor seminary training and insufficient emotional support for men ordained in the 1940s and 1950s."
Impact of psychology from previous decades
Some bishops and psychiatrists have asserted that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling. Thomas G. Plante of Stanford University and Santa Clara University wrote: "Almost all the cases coming to light today are cases from 30 and 40 years ago. We did not know much about pedophilia and sexual abuse in general back then. In fact, the vast majority of the research on sexual abuse of minors didn't emerge until the early 1980's. So, it appeared reasonable at the time to treat these men and then return them to their priestly duties. In hindsight, this was a tragic mistake." Robert S. Bennett, the Washington attorney who headed the National Review Board's research committee, named "too much faith in psychiatrists" as one of the key problems concerning Catholic sex abuse cases. About 40% of the abusive priests had received counseling before being reassigned.
Pedophilia and ephebophilia
In Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, Cimbolic & Cartor (2006) noted that because of the large share of post-pubescent male minors among cleric victims there is need to further study the differential variables related to ephebophile versus pedophile offenders. Cartor, Cimbolic & Tallon (2008) found that 6 percent of the cleric offenders in the John Jay Report are pedophiles, 32 percent ephebophiles, 15 percent 11 & 12 year olds only (both male and female), 20 percent indiscriminate, and 27 percent mildly indiscriminate. They also found distinct differences between the pedophile and ephebophile groups. They reported that there may be “another group of offenders who are more indiscriminate in victim choice and represent a more heterogeneous, but still a distinct offender category” and suggested further research to determine “specific variables that are unique to this group and can differentiate these offenders from pedophile and ephebophile offenders” so as to improve the identification and treatment of both offenders and victims. All victims in the John Jay report were minors. The Causes and Context Study of the John Jay College considered 22% of all victims as pre-pubescent (defined as ten years or younger).According to definitions of the American Psychiatric Association the majority of the victims has to be considered pre-pubescent (age 13 or younger).
Gay priests and homosexuality
According to the John-Jay-Report 80.9% of the alleged abuse victims in the United States were male. This led to William Donohue of the Catholic League to opine: "I maintain it has been a homosexual crisis all along." This was judged as an “unwarranted assumption”, Margaret Smith, a John Jay College criminologist who worked on the report, replied: “The majority of the abusive acts were homosexual in nature. That participation in homosexual acts is not the same as sexual identity as a gay man.” Research on pedophilia in general shows a majority of abusers identify themselves as heterosexual. The Causes and Context Study of the John Jay Institute found no statistical support for linking homosexual identity and sexual abuse of minors. Additionally the John Jay report noted that "the abuse decreased as more gay priests began serving the church."
Opinion seems divided on whether there is any definite link or connection between the Roman Catholic institution of celibacy and incidences of child abuse by Catholic clergy.
A 2005 article in the conservative Irish weekly the Western People proposed that clerical celibacy contributed to the abuse problem by suggesting that the institution of celibacy has created a "morally superior" status that is easily misapplied by abusive priests: "The Irish Church’s prospect of a recovery is zero for as long as bishops continue blindly to toe the Vatican line of Pope Benedict XVI that a male celibate priesthood is morally superior to other sections of society." Christoph Schönborn and Hans Kung have also said that priestly celibacy could be one of the causes of the sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church.
Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said, "We don't see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else. I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, from traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others." Philip Jenkins asserts that his "research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denomination—or indeed, than non-clergy. However determined news media may be to see this affair as a crisis of celibacy, the charge is just unsupported."
Male culture of the church
Italian academic Lucetta Scaraffia wrote in L'Osservatore Romano that a greater presence of women in the Vatican could have prevented clerical sexual abuse from taking place.
It has been argued that shortage of priests caused the Roman Catholic hierarchy to act in such a way to preserve the number of clergy and ensure that sufficient numbers were available to serve the congregation despite serious allegations that these priests were unfit for duty.Others disagree and assert that the Church hierarchy's mishandling of the sex abuse cases merely reflected their prevailing attitude at the time towards any illegal or immoral activity by clergy.
Declining standards in prevailing culture
In The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church, author George Weigel claims that it was the infidelity to orthodox Roman Catholic teaching, the "culture of dissent" of priests, women religious, bishops, theologians, catechists, Church bureaucrats, and activists who "believed that what the Church proposed as true was actually false" was mainly responsible for this problem. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, blamed the declining morals of the late 20th century as a cause of the high number of sexually abusive priests. The hypothesis that a purported decline in general moral standards was associated with an increase in abuse by clergy was promoted by a study by John Jay College funded by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The study claimed that the liberal 1960s caused the increase in abuse, and the conservative Reagan years led to its decline. The study was branded the 'Woodstock Defence' by critics who said that the study's own figures showed a surge in abuse reported from the 1950s, and the passage of time meant that reports of abuse from earlier decades were unlikely.