A year-long pilot study into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Switzerland has revealed over 1,000 cases since the mid-20th century.
Swiss Catholic authorities commissioned the independent study in 2022.
Historians from the University of Zurich were given access to the Swiss Catholic Church’s archives to investigate cases of sexual abuse within the Church.
The results of the study commissioned by the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, the Conference of Unions of Orders and Other Communities of Consecrated Life (KOVOS) and the Central Roman Catholic Conference of Switzerland (RKZ), were published on Tuesday.
The data revealed 1,002 cases of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clerics, church staff and members of Catholic orders that have occurred in Switzerland since the mid-20th century, the vast majority involving children.
A team of four researchers led by professors Monika Dommann and Marietta Meier found evidence of a wide range of sexual abuse, ranging from “problematic boundary violations” to “severe systematic abuse lasting several years".
According to their findings, most (56%) of the cases involved men or boys while some 39 per cent of victims were women or girls. The gender of the remaining 5 percent could not be determined.
Noting these cases to be only the ‘tip of the iceberg’, the study goes on to state that “74 percent of the documents reviewed during the study concerned sexual abuse of minors”.
It is suggested further archives yet to be made available - including those of religious orders, diocese and Catholic educational and care facilities - are likely to “contain further evidence of abuse”.
According to the report, researchers found evidence that documents have been destroyed in at least two dioceses, while other cases have not been consistently recorded and archived.
“Given what we know from research on the dark figure of crime, we assume that only a small percentage of cases was ever reported in the first place,” it reads.
Researchers found the majority of the cases documented took place within pastoral work, including confessionals, other forms of spiritual care, altar service and religious education.
The study also suggests that church law relating to criminal sexual abuse offenses was “hardly ever applied in the cases we investigated," researchers added, “instead, many cases were kept secret, covered up or trivialized.” The report alleges church officials regularly reassigned clergy accused of sexual abuse to different posts to “avoid criminal prosecution.”
“The interests of the Catholic Church and its dignitaries were given precedence over the welfare and safety of parishioners,” it reads.
The research team has concluded that further investigation is needed to determine the full extent of historic sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Switzerland.
Premier has contacted the Swiss Bishops’ Conference and the Vatican for comment.