There were hundreds of “predator priests” sexually abusing more than 1,000 children in Pennsylvania for decades — all while being shielded by Roman Catholic Church leaders, according to a scathing grand jury report released Tuesday.
“The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid scandal,” the report states, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “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.”
The 900-page, partly redacted report looked at abuse allegations in six of the state’s eight dioceses that minister to more than half of its 3.2 million Catholics: Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Erie and Greensburg. The report was the culmination of an 18-month probe led by Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
“The pattern was abuse, deny and coverup,” Shapiro said Tuesday. “It served a legal purpose that church officials manipulated for their advantage.”
Church officials would routinely use language like “horseplay” to downplay concerns brought forward by victims or their families, Shapiro said.
“Several diocesan administrators, including the bishops, often dissuaded victims from reporting abuse to police, pressured law enforcement to terminate or avoid an investigation or conducted their own deficient, biased investigation without reporting crimes against children to the proper authorities,” the report says.
The report names 301 abusive priests, but the grand jury received files on more than 400, Shapiro said, adding, “We don’t think we got them all” because not all allegations were documented by the church.
Dozens of church superiors were also named as complicit.
The grand jury report follows the resignation last month of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former DC archbishop who was accused of sexually abusing underage boys and seminarians for decades.
Church officials, who had tried to block the report’s release, braced for the aftermath. McCarrick’s successor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, a former longtime leader of the Pittsburgh diocese, warned priests in a letter that the probe will be “profoundly disturbing.”
He is named in the report for allegedly not doing enough to protect children during his time in Pittsburgh — but he denied this in a statement, saying he “acted with diligence, with concern for the survivors and to prevent future acts of violence.”
About 1,000 child victims were identifiable from the church’s records, but investigators believe the real number is much greater.
Many of the victims testified before the grand jury and said they felt vindicated by the report. One woman tried to commit suicide days after her testimony but urged grand jurors to see the investigation through from her hospital bed.
Because of church officials’ coverup actions, nearly every instance of abuse in the grand jury report is too old to be prosecuted, PennLive.com reported. A lot of the accused are also dead or long since removed from the ministry.
“We can’t charge most of the culprits,” the report states. “What we can do is tell our fellow citizens what happened and try to get something done about it.”
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