The Catholic Church is reeling after a devastating report revealed a horrific level of historical child abuse perpetrated by many top priests and clerics across the state of Pennsylvania.
The report, handed down by a grand jury Tuesday, details child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years. It also highlights an extensive effort by those in church leadership to cover up the crimes. In fact several Church leaders attempted to prevent the report from being published and “cover up the cover-up,” as Attorney General Josh Shapiro put it at a press conference Tuesday.
The report covers six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses and identified some 1,000 victims, according to the New York Times.
In light of the reported figures, it is important to note that the true number of victims could be much higher — many are likely to have been too afraid or ashamed to come forward. Details of the sordid abuse that was revealed in the report are nothing short of abhorrent: a priest who raped a 7-year-old girl in hospital after she had an operation to remove her tonsils, a victim who was tied up and whipped with leather straps by a member of the clergy as men raped him, and another priest who kept his job even after after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.
Shapiro noted that this was the largest investigative report into child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in United States history, adding that the”builds on the Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ report which identified 229 abuser priests.”
The words of the grand jury are piercing and stern.
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” it notes. “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.”
The grand jury condemned the Catholic Church for not only failing to adequately address the issue of abuse but for also promoting those church leaders who did everything in their power to cover it up. One high-profile bishop who was accused of backing an abusive priest was Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the current archbishop of Washington.
Spoken with such bland and soft tones. Like he's talking about a church secretary who stole a few thousand dollars from the collection. https://t.co/FlZTqegXZn
— Joshua Mercer (@joshuamercer) August 15, 2018
So Cardinal Wuerl presided over my Mass today. He gave a statement at the beginning about the "stories" we may have heard. It was handwaving and diversionary. Shameful.
— Tim Carney (@TPCarney) August 15, 2018
“Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal,” the jury noted.
I’m trying to think of how I’d like a statement from the @USCCB to look, instead of the disappointing drivel they keep belching out. I keep coming back to the simplest, best option:
“We all quit.”
— Eric Sammons (@EricRSammons) August 15, 2018
While many in the upper echelons of Pennsylvania’s Catholic clergy promised greater safeguarding and vowed to root out any abusive priests, others rejected the idea that the Church covered up the crimes.
Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh said, “There was no cover-up going on.”
“I think that it’s important to be able to state that,” he added at a press conference Tuesday. “We have over the course of the last 30 years, for sure, been transparent about everything that has in fact been transpiring.”
But the grand jury took a very different view, accusing Church officials of minimizing the severity of abuse by using words like “inappropriate contact” instead of “rape” and relocating abusive priests without telling the faith community exactly why they had suddenly disappeared.
“Tell his parishioners that he is on ‘sick leave,’ or suffering from ‘nervous exhaustion.’ Or say nothing at all,” the report described.
Shapiro, the man at the head of the extensive investigation, said at a press conference, “They protected their institution at all costs. As the grand jury found, the Church showed a complete disdain for victims.”
He noted that, in some cases, the cover-up among Church officials went “all the way up to the Vatican.”
“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,” Shapiro added.
If we let the corrupto bishops go back to normal after this extinction level meteorite, we deserve what we get.
— John Zmirak (@JZmirak) August 15, 2018
As for the validity of the report, Shapiro explained how the grand jury subpoenaed and reviewed “half a million pages of documents — international Church documents and official records.”
“The abuse scarred every diocese,” he said. “The cover-up was sophisticated. And all the while, the church leadership kept records of the abuse and the cover-up. These documents, from the diocese’ own secret archives, formed the backbone of this investigation, corroborating accounts of victims and illustrating the organized cover-up by senior church officials.”
Shapiro added, “The term ‘secret archives’ is not my term — it is how the Church officials themselves referred to the troves of documents, sitting in filing cabinets, just feet from the bishops’ desks.”
“In each diocese, the bishops had the key to the secret archives, which contained both allegations and admissions of the abuse and the cover-up,” he said.
Many of the victims who testified before the grand jury spoke of informing Church leaders about instances of abuse, only to be met with patronizing responses.
“I had gone to two bishops with allegations over five years, and they ignored and downplayed my allegations,” said the Rev. James Faluszczak, a priest from Erie, Pennsylvania, who was abused as a child. “It’s that very management of secrets that has given cover to predators.”
“It’s a horrible way of living. I had my puberty stolen from me, my life stolen,” one survivor, Robert Mizic, told KDKA-TV. “That’s the true travesty to know that they [the Diocese] knew, and they knew and moved these priests to endanger other children is deplorable.”
If you ever find yourself in despair over how widespread corruption and moral weakness appear to be in the ranks of the clergy at a time of scandal such as this, remember how many apostles actually remained with Christ at the foot of the Cross.
(Hint: It was a LOT less than 12)
— Nate Madden (@NateMaddenCRTV) August 15, 2018
Despite being over 800 pages long, the report has been heavily redacted.
“Let me be very clear. My office is not satisfied with the release of a redacted report,” Shapiro noted. “Every redaction represents an incomplete story of abuse that deserves to be told.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Vatican had yet to comment on the grand jury report.