Over a period of 70 years, bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up sexual abuse by more than 300 priests, according to a Grand Jury report.
The report, which was published on Tuesday (August 14), reveals the appalling number of crimes and the shocking cover-ups that went with them.
It covered six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses, and found more than 1,000 identifiable victims. It is the broadest examination so far by a government agency in the US into the sexual abuse of children by the clergy of the Catholic Church.
The report also suggests there could be thousands more victims whose records were lost or who did not come forward out of fear.
The Catholic Church in America has been plagued by sexual abuse scandals for more than 15 years, especially since the allegations uncovered by the Boston Globe in 2002. However, these latest revelations mean the scandal has reached the church’s highest ranks.
The new report comes not long after the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, who was accused of sexually abusing young priests, as well as children, the New York Times reports.
The report details disturbing instances of abuse of children by priests and other members of the church, including a priest who was allowed to stay in the ministry after getting a young girl pregnant and arranging for her to have an abortion.
The report, which is over 1,300 pages long, reads:
We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have heard some of it before. There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.
We heard the testimony of dozens of witnesses concerning clergy sex abuse. 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.
The report goes on to detail some of the horrific abuse the victims – mostly boys, some girls – suffered. From being manipulated with alcohol and pornography, to being raped, the reports states ‘all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.’
The grand jury wrote:
Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability. 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.
Due to the expiration of the statute of limitations on the crimes, the report is unlikely to lead to new criminal charges or lawsuits. So far, only two of the cases in the report have led to criminal charges.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence regarding the welfare of a child contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. If you are a child seeking advice and support call Childline for free on 0800 1111.
Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.