Church abuse re­port should be re­leased unredacted

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION -

The Philadel­phia Inquirer and the Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette re­ported last week that the grand ju­rors who in­ves­ti­gated child sex­ual abuse in six Penn­syl­va­nia Ro­man Catholic dio­ce­ses want to see their full and unredacted re­port re­leased to the pub­lic. The 20 grand jury mem­bers unan­i­mously lodged “their ob­jec­tions to any at­tempts to ‘cen­sor, al­ter, redact or amend’ the doc­u­ment,” those news­pa­pers re­ported. Their two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed that 301 “preda­tor priests” had sex­u­ally abused more than 1,000 chil­dren over seven decades in the dio­ce­ses of Harrisburg, Greens­burg, Pitts­burgh, Al­len­town, Scran­ton and Erie.

This plea from the grand ju­rors who spent two har­row­ing years in­ves­ti­gat­ing child sex­ual abuse in six of eight Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic dio­ce­ses should be heeded.

In their court fil­ing, as ex­plained by the Inquirer and Post-Gazette, the ju­rors said they “ex­am­ined an ‘over­whelm­ing amount of ev­i­dence’ of abuse, in­clud­ing in­ter­nal church doc­u­ments that had been kept se­cret.

“They wrote that they so­licited and re­ceived writ­ten or in-per­son tes­ti­mony from bish­ops from all of the six dio­ce­ses.

“And, they said, they heard from vic­tims — most of whom tes­ti­fied they had no­ti­fied their pas­tors, bish­ops or dio­ce­ses about the abuse.”

Wrote the grand jury: “We lis­tened as they poured out their hearts telling of the agony and tor­ment they en­dured since be­ing vic­tim­ized. They had waited so long to be heard; they de­serve to be heard and val­i­dated.”

Penn­syl­va­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Shapiro also ar­gues that the full, unredacted re­port should be made pub­lic.

There has been far too much se­crecy al­ready, as the grand jury re­port made plain.

We thank the grand ju­rors for ded­i­cat­ing so much time to this ex­cru­ci­at­ing as­sign­ment.

And it must have been in­fu­ri­at­ing as the de­tails of the cover-up per­pe­trated by bish­ops and other church of­fi­cials — and some lay peo­ple — came to light. It cer­tainly was in­fu­ri­at­ing to read the grand jury re­port.

How could so many peo­ple of God have acted so cal­lously to pro­tect the church over chil­dren?

Shapiro said again last week that there is ev­i­dence that the Vat­i­can — the high­est ech­e­lon of the Catholic Church — was aware of the cover-up of child sex­ual abuse in Penn­syl­va­nia, and that doc­u­ments in the dio­ce­ses’ se­cret archives were shared with Vat­i­can of­fi­cials.

It’s not hard to be­lieve that the Vat­i­can knew of the coverup, given the hi­er­ar­chi­cal na­ture of the Catholic Church, and the ap­palling track record of Vat­i­can of­fi­cials on th­ese is­sues. Shield­ing abu­sive priests from civil and crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion has been the modus operandi of the church at ev­ery level. This be­came clear in the early 2000s when, af­ter his role in cov­er­ing up priestly abuse in the Arch­dio­cese of Bos­ton was re­vealed by the Bos­ton Globe, Car­di­nal Bernard Law re­signed and then was given a com­fort­able po­si­tion in Rome. In 2017, he was given a full car­di­nal’s fu­neral; Pope Fran­cis gave the fi­nal bless­ing.

It would send a much­needed sig­nal that this time is dif­fer­ent — this time, the church truly is on the side of vic­tims — if Vat­i­can of­fi­cials were to ac­knowl­edge what they knew about Penn­syl­va­nia’s abu­sive priests, and what in­put they had in han­dling their cases.

Like­wise, we’d like to see the unredacted grand jury re­port be re­leased, the dozens of blacked-out pages re­placed with text. As Shapiro has said, “Ev­ery redac­tion rep­re­sents a si­lenced vic­tim.”

As the Inquirer and PostGazette re­ported last week, the state Supreme Court is slated to weigh ar­gu­ments this month by “un­named clergy mem­bers who have pe­ti­tioned the high court to keep their names from be­com­ing pub­lic, con­tend­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion stripped them of their due process rights and that the re­port con­tains in­ac­cu­ra­cies or un­fairly smeared their rep­u­ta­tions.”

We know that the grand jury re­port con­tin­ues to be a source of great pain for mem­bers of the Catholic Church. But the sor­row of the faith­ful pales when com­pared to that of the abuse vic­tims who suf­fered, un­ac­knowl­edged, for far too long. For their sake, si­lence and se­crecy must no longer be the church’s op­er­at­ing prin­ci­ples.

Aware­ness of the ter­ri­ble harm vis­ited on chil­dren was too long in com­ing. But we’re grate­ful for it. And we can­not — must not — turn back, or turn away, now.

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