On Tuesday, a grand jury released a 1,400-page report revealing that leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania “systematically” covered up child sexual abuse for 70 years. The report lists over 300 accused members of the clergy and 1,000 child victims—however, they believe there are more who have yet to be identified.
This 18-month investigation covered six of the state’s eight dioceses, and is the most comprehensive report examining sex abuse in the Catholic Church done in the U.S. so far. The investigation covers the Pennsylvania dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. Last year, Greensburg and Harrisburg attempted to stop the probe but later backed off.
The report is filled with horrendous accounts of abuse. One documented instance described a priest raping a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils removed. Another case involved a priest sexually abusing a seven-year-old boy and then telling him to go confess his “sins” to him. The grand jury also reported a predatory ring of priests who made child pornography, swapped information about victims and gave young boys gold cross necklaces to mark them as being “groomed” for abuse. The grand jury wrote, “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,”
At a Tuesday news conference, State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the report reveals a “systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.” This cover-up involved church leaders persuading both the victims and police not to report the abuse. One example of a cover-up took place in 1962 when Rev. Ernest Paone was caught molesting boys and using guns with young children. Another pastor intervened, attempting to stop the police from arresting Paone. Soon, the diocese received a letter from the former district attorney Robert Masters that said they had stopped the investigation “in order to prevent unfavorable publicity.”
Despite the undeniable evidence of sexual abuse, Shapiro said most of the abuse accounts will not lead to criminal cases. The report says, “As a consequence of the cover-up, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted.” In the state of Pennsylvania, a child victim has until the age of 30 to file a civil suit and until the age of 50 to file criminal charges. Shapiro wrote, “We all wish more charges could be filed, but due to the church’s manipulation of our weak laws in Pennsylvania, too many predators were out of reach.”
The Pennsylvania State Legislature has so far rejected the grand jury’s requests to lift the statute of limitations. However, the grand jury has strongly suggested opening a temporary “window” that would allow older victims in this case to file civil lawsuits.
On Tuesday, all six of the dioceses involved in the report released the names of the priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct. In the Harrisburg diocese, Bishop Ronald Gainer ordered the names of all priests and bishops that were accused or involved to be removed from church buildings.