Researchers: Hundreds of sex abuse allegations 'tip of the iceberg' in Switzerland

Since 1950, an official investigation into the Roman Catholic Church in Switzerland has uncovered nearly one thousand cases of sexual assault.

According to the report, the majority of victims were male and involved minors. The overwhelming majority of defendants were male.

Additionally, researchers from the University of Zurich discovered evidence of a widespread cover-up. The study leaders stated that the identified cases are without a doubt just the tip of the iceberg. 

The report was compiled by Monika Dommann and Marietta Meier following a year-long investigation commissioned by Church authorities.

They had access to Church archives and conducted interviews with a number of individuals, including victims of sexual abuse. However, they stated that "numerous" additional documents were not yet available.

In addition, the researchers discovered evidence that records had been obliterated at two dioceses and that not all reported instances of sexual abuse were documented and, thus, archived.

According to Ms. Dommann and Ms. Meier given what they know from research on the dark figure of crime, they infer that only a small percentage of cases were ever reported in the first place.

More than half of the incidents that were investigated took place during pastoral care, specifically during confession, altar services, and religious education in children's clubs and associations. These were the most common times when pastoral care was being administered.

It was found that another thirty percent of instances of child abuse took place in institutions such as Catholic children's homes, day schools, and residential schools.

The researchers not only documented instances of sexual assault, but they also investigated how Church officials dealt with these cases and came to the conclusion that a considerable proportion of them were kept secret, covered up, or trivialized.

Their report criticised a variety of officials, including bishops, for not doing more to assist the afflicted.

It was discovered that those in positions of power, sometimes overseas, had "systematically" relocated clerics accused of perpetrating abuse to escape punishment. This was done in order to cover their tracks.

As a result, the welfare and security of parishioners took a back seat to the concerns of the Catholic Church and its dignitaries, rather than the parishioners themselves.

According to the findings of the study, this viewpoint did not begin to shift until the 21st century, when a number of sexual misconduct scandals came to light.

The report prompted sexual abuse victim groups to say that unfortunately, the early investigation confirms what they have seen and in some cases are still seeing.

It also mentioned that the Swiss Catholic Church authorities have covered up these crimes for many decades which protected the perpetrators and their institution at the price of the voiceless victims.

The president of the Swiss Bishops' Conference, the governing body of the Catholic Church in Switzerland, stated at a press conference on Tuesday that the organisation offered innumerable excuses and that its actions fell short of what the victims deserve.

Renata Asal-Steger stated, "We search for words knowing we will not discover the right ones." In 2024, the University of Zurich is scheduled to initiate a follow-up initiative that will be funded by the Church.