This week marked a major turning point in the Catholic Church's sexual-abuse crisis. An Australian court sentenced Cardinal George Pell to six years in prison for sexually abusing minors, a decision that not only makes him the highest-ranking Church official to face civil justice, but also underscores a central animating tension in the issue: the one between civil and Church authorities.
After years in which victims saw Church officials as lax and unresponsive, more protective of the abusers than of the abused, civil justice has moved in and filled the gap. Pell isn't the only cardinal who's been on trial. A French court last month convicted Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, on charges of covering up for an abusive priest in his diocese in a case brought by a vocal group of victims, La Parole Libérée. Their effort is now the subject of a feature film in France. In the United States, a grand-jury report in Pennsylvania released last summer found evidence of the abuse of 1,000 children—and since then, other states have begun exploring their own grand-jury investigations.