A review of the Catholic Church’s historical attitudes towards clerical sexual abuse indicates that the popes of the Middle Ages had far less of a sense of humor about the issue than their modern counterparts:
The early Roman Empire tolerated the sexual abuse of slave children, but the Church never did, and from the time of the Council of Elvira in 306 CE it was regarded not only as a sin punishable in the next life, but as a crime punishable in this one.
St. Basil of Caesarea, in his fourth century monastic rule, decreed that a monk who abused boys should be publicly whipped, his head shaved, he be spat upon and kept in prison for six months in chains on a diet of bread and water, and after release to be always subject to supervision, and kept out of contact with young people. This stricture was repeated in the canonical collections right through the Middle Ages.
The Church also adopted the secular law as laid down by the Emperor as part of its own canon law, because it regarded the Emperor’s power as coming from God. […]
All of that changed in 1917 when the first Code of Canon Law repealed those seven papal and Council decrees. Henceforth, the Church would deal with the problem as a purely canonical crime with no involvement of the State, and where the maximum punishment under canon law was dismissal from the priesthood. There are a number of explanations for this radical change of policy, including anti-clericalism in some countries, the idea of the Church as “a perfect society,” of the priest as a superior being blessed by God, and the invention of radio.
In 1922, Pope Pius XI issued his instruction Crimen Solliciationis that imposed the secret of the Holy Office on all information about clergy sexual abuse of children. The penalty for breach of the secret was automatic excommunication from the Church. That policy of the strictest secrecy has been confirmed or expanded by every pope since. It is still there in Article 30 of Pope John Paul II’s 2001 decree Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, as revised by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, with the only dispensation being that granted in 2010 to allow reporting to the civil authorities where the civil law requires it.
The rot has been spreading in the Church for a long time.