A devastating report by a grand jury claims that leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up sexual abuse for decades. The New York Times reports that at least 300 priests have been implicated over a period of 70 years. The report covers six of the eight dioceses in Pennsylvania and identifies more than 1,000 victims. It is the 11th report by a government agency in the United States on the epidemic of sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups by the Catholic Church, and one of the widest investigations into clergy abuse against children.
One victim was a young girl who was raped by a priest while staying in the hospital after having her tonsils removed. Another girl was impregnated by a priest at the age of 17, and the priest was allowed to keep his position in the ministry after the crime came to the attention of church leaders. He forged her signature on a marriage certificate and divorced her just months later. Their stories are just two of the many horrific accounts in the report.
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the grand jury wrote in the scathing report. “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.”
Church officials kept a playbook for how to deal with offender priests, the report also claims. One strategy was to minimize the impact of certain words, for example using “inappropriate contact” instead of “rape.” It also suggested that investigations into sex abuse allegations should be done by priests that were untrained in dealing with such matters. And, perhaps most damning of all, to not inform parishioners of the real reason a priest was removed from a specific church.
“They protected their institution at all costs. As the grand jury found, the church showed a complete disdain for victims,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a press conference.
The grand jury investigation lasted two years and spanned six diocese, Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton. Last year Greensburg and Harrisburg tried to halt the grand jury, but ultimately stepped back from that stance. Fifty thousand documents from the diocese secret archives were reviewed as part of the investigation, along with testimony from dozens of victims and the bishop of Erie. Pennsylvania has seen more allegations of priest sexual misconduct than any other state.