Shocking, yet not wholly unexpected, revelations of massive clergy pedophilia and its broad organized cover-up by the Catholic Church over a period of 70 years has been exposed in a 1,400-page report by a grand jury in Pennsylvania.
The horrifying report, released Aug. 15, shows that at least 300 priests had sexually abused more than 1,000 victims, many of them numerous times, during that period. Church leaders persuaded victims not to report the abuse and law enforcement not to investigate it, the report states.
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades,” the report states. “Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted.”
Six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses were involved in the report.
“We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands,” the report says.
This comes on the heels of the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, who is accused of sexually abusing young priests and seminarians, as well as minors.
Unfortunately, the report is unlikely to lead to new criminal charges or civil lawsuits under the current law because the statute of limitations has expired. The grand jury and the state’s attorney general strongly recommended that the statute of limitations be extended in civil and criminal cases. They recommended opening a temporary “window” that would permit older victims to file civil lawsuits against perpetrators, and the church. The church, of course, has lobbied against any change to the statute. (FFRF is asking Pennsylvania residents to contact their lawmakers to change the rules for reporting clergy abuse.)
The cover-up was so well organized that church officials had a “playbook for concealing the truth,” the grand jury said. (See accompanying story on this page.)
“They protected their institution at all costs,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in the news conference announcing the release of the report. “As the grand jury found, the church showed a complete disdain for victims.” He added that the cover-up “stretched in some cases all the way up to the Vatican.”
“There are two words that can express these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said, in a statement.
The Pennsylvania grand jury met for two years, reviewed 500,000 documents from dioceses’ secret archives, and heard testimony from dozens of victims and the bishop of Erie. The report covers the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.
The report was finally released after what Shapiro called an “intense legal battle” that played out over the last several months as some people named in the report appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to block its release.
“They wanted to cover up the cover-up,” Shapiro said.
Pennsylvania’s two other dioceses, Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, have been the subjects of earlier grand jury reports, which also found damaging information about clergy and bishops in those dioceses.
“For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere,” it said in the report. “But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.”
The report described some of the alleged abuse in disturbing detail:
• In Erie, a 7-year-old boy was sexually abused by a priest who then told him he should go to confession and confess his “sins” to that same priest.
• Another boy was repeatedly raped from ages 13 to 15 by a priest who bore down so hard on the boy’s back that it caused severe spine injuries. He became addicted to painkillers and later died of an overdose.
• A priest raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The bishop expressed his feelings in a letter: ‘This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.’ But the letter was not for the girl. It was addressed to the rapist.
• In the Pittsburgh diocese, the priests shared information on victims. The priests would give their altar boys gold crosses. These crosses were a visible sign that these children had been victims of sexual abuse and were a “signal to other predators that the children had been desensitized to sexual abuse and were optimal targets for further victimization.”
“There are many gut-wrenching, heartbreaking details in the report, but the consistent theme underlying the analysis is authority. Unquestionable, unassailable authority,” writes Andrew Seidel, director of s
trategic response for FFRF, in FFRF’s blog, Freethought Now, about the report. “Divine authority. In my opinion, that is the biggest contributor to the depth, breadth and severity of this menace.
“If the Catholic Church were a chain of private schools or a secular, multinational corporation, it could never get away with raping children on an industrial scale and covering it up. The difference is that these young victims are taught by everyone in their orbit that their tormentors are divine. They are the representatives of God on Earth. The abuse is so bad in the church because it is a church.
“It’s time to ask any observant Catholic you know: ‘Why haven’t you quit the Catholic Church?’”
Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, minced no words in her column posted on NBCNews.com.
She writes, “It is time to face the horrible truth: The Catholic Church is a pedophile ring . . . What the now-multiple Pennsylvania grand jury reports show clearly is that the Roman Catholic Church has treated the protection of its pedophiles, rapists and sexual abusers as their highest priority. They have been unwilling and unable to police clergy sexual abuse while determined to keep responsibility for doing so within the Church — but they don’t want to be held accountable for mishandling it. Like a criminal syndicate, it is time for the Church to be broken apart and cleaned out.”