More than 300 “predator priests” sexually abused children over a period of 70 years, and their actions were covered up by bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, according to a grand jury report released today.
The report found more than 1,000 identifiable victims, boys and girls, teens and prepubescent children. “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 said.
Previous reports by grand juries have detailed abuses in single dioceses or counties. Today’s report, examining six of state’s eight Catholic dioceses, is the most comprehensive to date.
At more than 1,350 pages, the report catalogues abuses dating back to 1947. Some victims were given alcohol before being molested, while others were subjected to violence and sadism.
In one instance, a group of at least four priests groomed and abused young boys, including a child who was forced to stand on a bed in a rectory, strip naked, and pose as Christ on the Cross while the priests took photographs.
In another, a priest raped a young girl and arranged an abortion after the assault resulted in pregnancy. 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.” The letter was not sent to the girl. It was addressed to the rapist.
The report also details the systematic cover up undertaken by Catholic leaders. After one priest admitted to sexually assaulting a young boy, the diocese ruled that “the experience will not necessarily be a horrendous trauma.” The priest was allowed to stay in the ministry for years, by three different bishops. “Priests were raping little boys and girls,” the grand jury wrote, “and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”
The report’s publication had been delayed after some of the named individuals claimed the findings were false or misleading, that they were denied due process, and that the report would impair their reputations. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the report released with redactions in portions involving ongoing litigation.
In response to the report, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty, chair of the bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, released a statement reaffirming the church’s commitment to preventing abuse. “The report of the Pennsylvania grand jury again illustrates the pain of those who have been victims of the crime of sexual abuse by individual members of our clergy, and by those who shielded abusers and so facilitated an evil that continued for years or even decades,” the statement said. “As a body of bishops, we are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops.”
The grand jury met for two years, reviewed 500,000 documents and heard testimony from dozens of victims. Their report lists each of the accused priests. And while the list is long, the grand jurors noted, “we don’t think we got them all.”
Read the full report: