Report details ‘systematic cover-up’
Pa. grand jury lists more than 300 clergy accused of sex abuse in Catholic Church
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday released a sweeping grand jury report on sex abuse in the Catholic Church, listing more than 300 accused clergy and detailing a “systematic” cover-up effort by church leaders over 70 years.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference Tuesday that more than 1,000 child victims were identified in the report, but the grand jury believes there are more.
The investigation is the most comprehensive yet on Catholic Church sex abuse in the United States. The 18-month probe, led by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, on six of the state’s eight dioceses — Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton, Erie and Greensburg — and follows other state grand jury reports that revealed abuse and cover-ups in two other dioceses.
Shapiro said that the report details a “systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.”
The nearly 1,400-page report’s introduction makes clear that few criminal cases may result from the massive investigation.
“As a consequence of the cover-up, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted,” it reads.
“We subpoenaed, and reviewed, half a million pages of internal diocesan documents. They contained credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests. Over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the church’s own records. We believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands.”
Some details and names that might reveal the clergy listed have been redacted from the report. Legal challenges by clergy delayed the report’s release, after some said it is a violation of their constitutional rights. Shapiro said they will work to remove every redaction.
The report has helped renew a crisis many in the church thought and hoped had ended nearly 20 years ago after the scandal erupted in Boston. But recent abuse-related scandals, from Chile to Australia, have reopened wounding questions about accountability and whether church officials are still covering up crimes at the highest levels.
The new wave of allegations has called Pope Francis’s handling of abuse into question as many Catholics look to him to help the church regain its credibility.
The pope’s track record has been mixed, something some outsiders attribute to his learning curve or shortcomings and others chalk up to resistance from a notoriously change-averse institution.
The Pennsylvania grand jury report follows the resignation last month of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a towering figure in the U.S. church. The former archbishop of Washington, D.C., was accused of sexually abusing minors and adults for decades.
Both have further polarized the church on homosexuality, celibacy and whether laypeople should have more power. It has also triggered debate about whether statutes of limitations should be expanded.
“We’re dealing with a long-term struggle not only about the meaning of justice, but about the meaning of memory,” said Jason Berry, a reporter and author who has covered the sexual abuse crisis for decades. “And how honest church has been about this crisis. Most bishops, besides apologies, have not been on the cutting edge of change.”
Church officials have already begun bracing for the aftermath of the report. On Monday, Washington Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl, former longtime leader of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, warned his priests in a letter that the probe will be “profoundly disturbing.”
Harrisburg’s bishop Ronald Gainer said earlier this month that he’d remove the names of all accused bishops from diocesan buildings and rooms. Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico last month told PennLive.com, a digital news site based in central Pennsylvania, that the report will be “sobering” and “is rather graphic.”
“While I expect that this report will be critical of some of my actions” in Pittsburgh, “I believe the report also confirms that I acted with diligence,” Wuerl wrote to Washington’s clergy. Wuerl is one of Pope Francis’ closest U.S. advisers, and sits on the Vatican’s bishop oversight committee. The bishop is expected to retire in the next few years.
The investigation took about two years.
The report’s length is expected to be from 800 to 1,000 pages, the PostGazette reported. It covers all dioceses except the two already studied — Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown. Pennsylvania is believed to have done more investigations of institutional child sex abuse than any other state.
Berry said the report shows the church needs a major overhaul in how it polices itself. He said the church needs a “separation of powers, an independent oversight.”
“Canon law is not equipped for this kind of thing. It’s an enormous criminal sexual underground. It’s been surfacing like jagged parts of an iceberg for 30 years,” Berry said.
Yet others fear the progress made by the church since the early 2000s is being overlooked. The number of new allegations is down, and the vast majority took place decades ago.