Pennsylvania Catholic Church Covered Up Abuse Of Almost 1000 Victims

The priests would allegedly grope the victims, make them masturbate with assailants and rape them orally, vaginally or anally.

A grand jury report in the state of Pennsylvania highlighted how six Roman Catholic dioceses covered up sexual abuse by 301 priests over a span of 70 years.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a press conference where he discussed the results from the damning report and how the church has been complicit in the “systematic cover up” of these crimes against boys and girls, under the cloak of religion.

“Today, Pennsylvanians can learn the extent of sexual abuse in these diocese and for the first time, we can begin to understand the systematic cover up by church leaders that followed,” Shapiro said.

The grand jury identified over 1,000 victims, of whom the church, even the Vatican allegedly knew of but kept under covers to “avoid” bad publicity.

“Dozens of witnesses testified before the grand jury, detailing acts of sexual abuse by priests and how senior church officials covered up their criminal conduct, prioritizing their institution over the safety and welfare of these young boys and girls,” he said.

Most of the victims of the abuse were boys but some of them were girls. The priests would allegedly grope the victims, make them masturbate with assailants and rape them orally, vaginally or anally.

One of the boys was allegedly asked to pose naked like Jesus and clergymen would then take pornographic pictures of them. After victims were forced to perform oral sex, they would be “purified” by rinsing their mouths with holy water.

The jurors accused the church of “brushing aside” victims who came forward to avoid bad press.

“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,” Shapiro said.

Matt Haverstick, an attorney representing the dioceses of Harrisburg and Greensburg, claimed the church has since reformed.

“The Dioceses I’ve gotten to know so well over the past two years are incredibly sorry for the harm to these survivors,” Haverstick said. “Today’s Church has listened and learned from its mistakes, and its reforms over the past two decades keep children safe.”

The report, at the end, also included hidden documents that held graphic details of how the abuse was handled and subsequently covered up.

In one such case in the Diocese of Scranton, a priest who impregnated a young girl, and then got her to get an abortion, resigned in 1986 was allowed back in another parish in Pennsylvania after a year of psychiatric treatment. In 1989, the diocese presented the victim with a settlement given she signed a confidentiality agreement. The priest, however, was then allowed to remain in active ministry till 2002.

In the Diocese of Allentown, the grand jury report alleged a priest was allowed to continue in the ministry after conceding to molesting a boy, claiming “the experience will not necessarily be a horrendous trauma.”

In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, church officials claimed an abused 15-year-old “literally seduced” the accused priest into a relationship.

“They knew for years if not decades of this vile corruption. Those in the church hierarchy went to great lengths to hide and dismiss the suffering of survivors,” Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused By Priests, told Huff Post. “How many children were raped and sexually abused because the church authorities covered up sexual abuse and did nothing?”

The grand jury investigation, which led to the arrest of two priests on child sexual abuse charges, may not bode well for many of the victims.

According to Shapiro, most of the priests mentioned in the report are either dead or the alleged crimes too old to be prosecuted.

According to current Pennsylvania law, adults who were abused as children can’t sue for damages after turning 30 and criminal charges can’t be filed after the age of 50.

The report faced a lot of hindrance in its publications, with many of the priests named, but not indicted, in it, claimed their right to due process would be violated of they were not allowed to challenge parts of the report.

The report was then finally released with some of the clergymen names redacted from it.

According to the AP, the Supreme Court, which blocked the publication of the said report in June, would be willing to hear oral arguments from those individuals in September.

The Erie diocese, one of dioceses investigated by the grand jury, in April, released the names of 51 former priests and lay leaders who were accused of sexual misconduct, ranging from providing pornography to minors to sexual assault.

“The most important thing I want to do at this moment is to express my sorrow to the victims of sexual abuse that occurred within the Diocese of Erie,” Erie’s Bishop Lawrence Persico wrote in the letter, which was read aloud in all 97 parishes of the 13-county diocese. “As the grand jury report demonstrates, they have experienced cruel behavior by the very individuals who should have had the greatest interest in protecting them.”

The Harrisburg diocese also released a list of 71 priests and other members who had been accused of sexual abuse in August. The accused bishops’ names were also removed from the church’s building.

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said some of the accused priests mentioned in the report were still active in the ministry, claiming the diocesan investigation had concluded the alleged abuse was “unsubstantiated.”

The grand jury report offered four recommendations to the investigated diocese:

  1. Removing the criminal statute of limitations.
  2. Establishing a temporary window for victims older than 30 to sue the dioceses.
  3. Tightening laws about mandatory reporting.
  4. Making sure confidentiality agreements don’t give either party the right to decline to cooperate with criminal investigations.

The church has opposed to changing the criminal statute of limitations, claiming it would financially cripple Pennsylvania’s Catholic schools and parishes. According to the watchdog group, 15 U.S. Catholic dioceses or archdioceses have filed for bankruptcy because of sexual abuse charges against clergymen.

Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

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