Pennsylvania priests 'abused thousands of children'

Hannah Rogers
August 15, 2018

Josh Shapiro, the Pennsylvania attorney-general, said the two-year inquiry had found that the high-level cover-up was systematic and sophisticated.

Shapiro also said that the investigation relied heavily on the church's "secret archives", a term Catholic leaders used to refer to records documenting the abuse that sat "just feet from the bishop's desk".

Tim Lennon, president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap), a US-based advocacy group, said it was encouraging to see the government compile such a substantive report.

About 15 victims flanked Shapiro at the news conference on Tuesday, several holding back tears.

Washington County District Attorney John Pettit, filed the sexual abuse charges against three Roman Catholic priests for allegedly molesting two brothers who were altar boys, and accused the church of foot -dragging during the investigation.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper reported that Bishop Zubik said: "There is no priest or deacon in an assignment today against whom there was a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse".

"Over 1,000 child victims were identified by our investigation, though the grand jury notes they believe that number was in the thousands", Shapiro said during the press conference.

"What I have read is heart-wrenching and I cringe at the thought that these criminal acts were conducted by men who were to be trusted", Bishop Edward J. Burns wrote in a statement released through the Diocese communications office.

That report led to a second grand jury investigation in 2011 to determine whether the Philadelphia diocese had updated its practices and stopped protecting accused clergymen.

The report identifies 59 priests in the Diocese of Scranton, 45 priests in the Diocese of Harrisburg, and 37 priests in the Diocese of Allentown as child sexual abusers. "The effect, not only victimised children, it served a legal objective that church officials manipulated for their advantage", Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro told reporters.

Yet the grand jury's work might not result in justice for Catholics who say they were molested as children. "For decades", Shapiro said. He went on to say that he will fight to reveal the names now redacted in the report.

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Numerous victims testified before the grand jury and said they felt vindicated by the report.

J. Pascal Sabas, a priest who had stints working in ME in the early 1960s, was accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy starting in 1964, according to Tuesday's report. The diocese settled with the family after requiring a confidentiality agreement, he said.

Victim advocates call the report the largest and most exhaustive such review by any US state.

Many victims claimed they were drugged or otherwise manipulated.

"We think it's reasonable to expect one of the world's great religions, dedicated to the spiritual well-being of over a billion people, to find ways to organize itself so that the shepherds stop preying upon the flock", the grand jury said. Another child drank juice, only to wake up the next morning bleeding from his rectum and unable to remember what had happened. Another priest forced a 9-year-old boy into having oral sex, then rinsed out the boy's mouth with holy water.

Since the Boston abuse scandal erupted in the 1990s, accusations involving American clerics have sporadically surfaced.

Between 5,700 and 10,000 Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse in the United States, but only a few hundred have been tried, convicted, and sentenced, according to the watchdog Bishop Accountability.

He said he imposed a "zero tolerance" policy for clergy who committed abuse and a process to address allegations. "We must offer our solemn and humble prayers for the victims' healing". That story was turned into Oscar-winning Hollywood movie, Spotlight, starring Michael Keaton.

Keeler arrived in Baltimore as archbishop in 1989, was made a cardinal in 1994 and retired in 2007.

Faced with a growing number of cases worldwide and repeated criticism over the Church's response, Pope Francis in 2013 brought in new legislation covering child sex abuse and pornography and sentences of up to 12 years for priests.

The conspiracy of silence extended beyond church grounds: police or prosecutors sometimes did not investigate allegations out of deference to church officials or brushed off complaints as outside the statute of limitations, the grand jury said.

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