Conference will discuss sexual abuse of deaf young people

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, April 21, 2021

To read this article in Spanish, click here.

The first-ever international conference on sexual abuse of young deaf Catholics will be held May 7 and 21 during webinars organized by the Deaf Catholic Youth Initiative for the Americas.

Father Joe Mulcrone, director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of the Deaf, is one of the founders of DCYIA and says this is the first time an event will take place examining the sexual abuse of young deaf Catholics.

“We’re trying to do this just really to get the topic out there. Nobody has done this, a webinar conference on deaf young people and sexual abuse,” Mulcrone said.

Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean survivor of clerical sex abuse who was appointed to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in May, and Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Pope Francis’ lead in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in preventing abuse, will both participate in the event. The sessions will be offered in American and Mexican Sign Language along with English and Spanish.

People with disabilities are sexually assaulted at nearly three times the rate of people without disabilities, according to the website Disability Justice.

While Mulcrone is not deaf, his grandparents were, and he grew up speaking to them in sign language. In 1977, he took over the archdiocese’s ministry to the deaf at the request of Cardinal John Cody, and he has heard stories of sexual abuse.

“Over the years, as I got good at signing and understanding deaf people signing, I began to get stories and experiences and revelations. Often enough the issue of being sexually abused growing up came out,” Mulcrone said.

He also heard stories of past abuse from young people who attended DCYIA’s encuentro gatherings in Mexico and Central America.

“We didn’t do the encuentros looking for sexual abuse, but when you get young deaf people together in a situation where they were surrounded by adults who were signing and in a trusting environment, these kids would just start disclosing, without any kind of prompting from us,” he said. “There wasn’t an encuentro we did where you didn’t have at least two or three young people — boys and girls — at some point disclosing.”

At the last few encuentros prior to the pandemic, DCYIA had two deaf psychologists on the team.

“They were busy all week,” Mulcrone said. 

That was when DCYIA decided to bring awareness to the issue with a conference.

“It became obvious to us, among young deaf people we were seeing in Mexico and certainty Central America, the rates of abuse we were seeing were three times that of their hearing counterparts,” he said.

Many of the dioceses in Mexico and Central America do not have the same abuse prevention programs and systems in place as dioceses in the United States do, so it makes it harder to address the issue, he said.

The conference is open to anyone interested in the topic. Cost is $10 for one day or $15 for both. For more information or to register, visit


  • deaf catholics
  • clergy sexual abuse

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