Pa. report details decades of sexual abuse by priests
Harrisburg, Pa. – Hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children – and possibly many more – since the 1950s, and senior church officials, including a man who is now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., systematically covered up the abuse, according to a grand jury report released Tuesday.
The real number” of abused children might be in the thousands since some secret church records were lost, and victims were afraid to come forward, the grand jury said.
“Church officials routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling and inappropriate conduct. It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse, including rape,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference in Harrisburg.
The report put the number of abusive clergy at more than 300. In nearly all of the cases, the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. Many of the priests are dead or retired, while others have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.
“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated,” the grand jury said.
Authorities evaluated each suspect and were able to charge just two, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty. Shapiro said the investigation is ongoing.
The grand jury accused Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who leads the Washington archdiocese, of helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh’s bishop. Wuerl, who led the Pittsburgh diocese from 1988 to 2006, disputed the allegations.
“While I understand this report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse,” he said in a statement. “I sincerely hope that a just assessment of my actions, past and present, and my continuing commitment to the protection of children will dispel any notions otherwise made by this report.”
The grand jury scrutinized abuse allegations in dioceses that minister to more than half the state’s 3.2 million Catholics. Its report echoed the findings of many earlier church investigations around the country in its description of widespread sexual abuse by clergy and church officials’ concealment of it.
Most of the victims were boys, but girls were abused, too, the report said.
The abuse ranged from groping and masturbation to anal, oral and vaginal rape. One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who sexually abused him. A 9-year-old boy was forced to perform oral sex and then had his mouth washed out with holy water. Another boy was made to pose naked as if being crucified and then was photographed by a group of priests.
The grand jury concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability. They failed to report accused clergy to police and sent abusive priests to so-called “treatment facilities,” which “laundered” the priests and “permitted hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry,” the report said.
The cover-up extended beyond church grounds. The grand jury said it found cases in which police or prosecutors learned of clergy sex abuse allegations but did not investigate out of deference to church officials.
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