This photograph captures the stolen innocence of children at the hands of sex offenders within the Roman Catholic Church. Sexual abuse of children has been reported in the Catholic Church for decades, with allegations against thousands of religious leaders, predominantly priests. The number of victims coming forward has sharply increased since 2010. While investigators have documented tens of thousands of cases in 26 countries, researchers conclude that many victims, especially in Asia and Africa, have yet to come forward.
The victims include both boys and girls, with the majority reported to be between the ages of 11 and 14, according to a research study produced for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. A comprehensive Australian study by former priests found that one in 15 Catholic priests worldwide had sexually abused children. The Catholic Church engaged in a widespread cover-up of the abuse, with popes and bishops fostering a culture of secrecy that has resulted in gross failures in transparency, accountability, and trust. In 2014, however, Pope Francis established a Vatican commission to root out sexual abuse of children in parishes and prevent future abuse. The Church has removed 800 priests from their positions and sentenced over 2500 to a lifetime of penance or other lesser sanction. Despite this, few of the Church’s child sex offenders have been prosecuted for their crimes.
Alfonso De Gregorio is an Italian documentary photographer based in the United Arab Emirates. He believes that photography can spotlight social, cultural, and environmental realities and, in doing so, provide a powerful and political commentary about the world we live in.