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For this reason there is insufficient data to be able to accurately ascertain current rates of child sex abuse, or to claim that abuse in the Catholic Church has fallen in recent decades.
In Ireland, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse issued a report that covered six decades (from the 1950s).While sexual use of children by adults has occurred throughout history, only in recent times has it been examined as the object of significant public attention.The first work dedicated to child sexual abuse was published in France in 1857: Medical-Legal Studies of Sexual Assault (Etude Médico-Légale sur les Attentats aux Mœurs), by Auguste Ambroise Tardieu, a noted French pathologist and pioneer of forensic medicine. Gerald Fitzgerald founded the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious order that treats Roman Catholic priests who struggle with personal difficulties such as substance abuse and sexual misconduct.The sexual abuse of children under the age of consent by priests has received significant media and public attention in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany and Australia.Cases have also been reported in other nations throughout the world.Cases of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, nuns and members of religious orders, and subsequent cover-ups, in the 20th and 21st centuries have led to numerous allegations, investigations, trials and convictions.
The abused include boys and girls, some as young as 3 years old, with the majority between the ages of 11 and 14.
Members of the Church's hierarchy have argued that media coverage was excessive and disproportionate, and they have also argued that such abuse also takes place in other religions and institutions.
A critical investigation by The Boston Globe in 2002 led to widespread media coverage of the issue in the United States, which was later dramatized in Tom Mc Carthy's film Spotlight in 2015.
Many of the cases span several decades and are brought forward years after the abuse occurred.
Although nationwide inquiries have been conducted only in the United States and Ireland, as well as an Australian inquiry into institutional responses, cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors have been reported and prosecuted in New Zealand, Canada and other countries.
Cases have also been brought against members of the Catholic hierarchy who covered up sex abuse allegations and moved abusive priests to other parishes where abuse continued.