14 August 2018, The Tablet

More than 1000 children abused by priests in Pennsylvania

The shocking revelations in the 884-page report places the issue of clergy sex abuse firmly back on the national stage

More than 1000 children abused by priests in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania statehouse is seen from the State Street bridge in Harrisburg
Photo: Photo: CNS/Tim Shaffer, Reuters

More than 1000 children were sexually abused by hundreds of paedophile priests in Pennsylvania for decades, according to a report released today by Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

The results of a two-year investigation that show that there were 301 credible cases of clergy sex abuse of minors in six dioceses over more than 70 years. Coming in the wake of a series of revelations about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the 884-page report places the issue of clergy sex abuse back on the national stage in a way it has not been since the 2002 crisis that began in Boston, and spread nationwide.

Flanked by victims, Shapiro began his press conference with videotaped comments from survivors who discussed both their abuse and the negative consequences it had on their psycho-sexual and emotional development. He then detailed both the instances of abuse and the cover-up of that abuse by Church leaders. He also complained about those petitioners who challenged some of the factual conclusions his office made and whose objections delayed the publication of the report. Some redactions remain in the final report because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is still reviewing the appeals by those named in the report.

According to Shapiro, the grand jury examined 500,000 Church documents. More than 1000 child victims were identified by the investigation. He alleged Church authorities showed “a complete disdain for victims”. In total, 41 priests in Erie, 37 priests in Allentown, 20 priests in Greensburg, 45 priests in Harrisburg, 59 priests in Scranton, and 99 priests in Pittsburgh were named in the report. For each diocese, Shapiro gave a horrific example of the abuse suffered, including a young woman in Scranton who was raped by a priest, who then offered to pay for an abortion. Shapiro read a letter of sympathy from Bishop James Timlin that was sent not to the victim, but to the rapist.

The report did not include the archdiocese of Philadelphia nor the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, both of which were the subject of earlier grand jury reports.

Angela Liddle, president of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, said after the report’s release, “The grand jury’s findings confirm a deeply disturbing pattern of behavior both by the perpetrator priests and the Catholic Church hierarchy. The serial sexual abuse of children took place in an environment that enabled and protected the offenders and even when their crimes were discovered, put the protection of the institution ahead of the needs of these innocent children.”

In advance of the report’s release, conservative groups suggested the report would blacken the reputation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who served as the Bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 until 2006. Wuerl has long been known for his advocacy of a strong stance against clergy sex abuse, starting with his removal of Fr. Anthony Cipolla from ministry in 1988. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy ordered Wuerl to reinstate the priest, Wuerl refused and appealed to the Apostolic Signatura. After a contrary verdict, Wuerl asked for a second hearing and, finally, the Vatican upheld Wuerl’s decision. The case was one of the first to receive widespread publicity. Beginning in 1988, Wuerl enacted policies such as mandatory reporting to civil authorities, that would later become part of the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children, adopted by the U.S. bishops in 2002.

The report criticised the cardinal for continuing to provide health insurance and sustenance payments to defrocked priests, as required by Canon Law. On the other hand, Bishop Donald Trautman, the former bishop of Erie, was accused of knowingly covering up crimes from civil authorities and the families of victims, while disclosing the truth to Vatican authorities. Other bishops were charged with similar efforts to cover-up sex abuse. Many bishops, including future-Cardinal, the late Anthony Bevilaqua, were accused of continuing priests they knew to be dangerous to children in active ministry.

“While I understand this Report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse,” Wuerl said in a statement.

Shapiro recommended lifting the statute of limitations on sex abuse charges, and also called for loosening the restrictions on civil lawsuits against the Catholic Church. The grand jury also called for new laws that clarify the necessity of informing police about allegations of child sex abuse and a ban on extending confidentiality agreements to communications with police.



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