The first scientific study on the extent of sexual abuse committed in the Catholic Church in Switzerland has found nearly a thousand victims since 1950, but this is undoubtedly only the "tip of the iceberg".
The University of Zurich was charged with the investigation last year by the main Swiss ecclesiastical authorities.
Historians published their first report on Tuesday, a document intended to shed light on abuses in the Swiss country, like similar investigations carried out for a long time elsewhere in the world.
Historians have been able to find 921 victims since 1950, but "This is probably just the tip of the iceberg," explained Professor Marietta Meier, who led the study with her colleague Monika Domman, most of the cases not having been reported or the documents listing them having been destroyed.
These first results - which will be supplemented by a new research campaign lasting three years - show that 74% of the victims identified so far were minors.
In total, 510 people, almost exclusively men, committed the abuse.
More than half (56%) of the victims are male, 39% female and the sex of the victim is unknown for the remaining cases, the document further highlights.
In Switzerland as elsewhere, it "has become clear that Church officials ignored, concealed or minimized most of the cases of sexual abuse analyzed until the 2000s", note the researchers.
“When they were forced to act, they often did so not with a focus on the people affected, but to protect the perpetrators, the institution or their own position,” they point out.
“We must finally tackle this systemic problem, linked to power relations, the relationship to sexuality and the image of women. We must also improve the training of priests,” declared the Bishop of Chur, Joseph Bonnemain, during the press conference to present the report.
This subject “has been worrying us for a long time now, it distresses us and shames us,” admitted the president of the Roman Catholic Central Conference of Switzerland, Renata Asal Steger.
But Jacques Nuoffer, president of the SAPEC victims support group, wants more.
“Today, the Pope claims to want to shed light on this affair, but still refuses to open access to the archives,” he accused, also calling for the establishment of a national call center for victims as well as more resources for research into legal, psychological and sociological aspects.
The vast majority of abuses were committed by priests during confession, on altar servers or during religious teaching and activities with groups of children or adolescents.
But in about a third of cases, the abuse took place in Catholic homes, schools and boarding schools.
If less than 2% of abuses were noted in religious orders and new communities, it is undoubtedly because the search for sources was particularly difficult there, the researchers point out.
There remains a lot of ground for historians to clear, with many archives and sources having not yet been studied and researchers have been able to provide evidence of the destruction of documents in two dioceses.
“The coming generation has the right to an enlightened Church. Only a Church without violence has a legitimate existence,” said Mgr Bonnemain.
Coincidentally, the highest authority of the Roman Catholic Church in Switzerland announced on Sunday that a preliminary investigation had been opened into accusations of covering up sexual assault within the Church.
The Conference of Swiss Bishops specified, in a press release, that the investigation had been opened following "allegations made against several emeritus and current members of the Conference of Swiss Bishops, as well as other members of the clergy, in the management of cases of sexual abuse".
The Editorial Board (with AFP)