Last week, a grand jury issued a report finding that bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania had covered up child sexual abuse– by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years— and not only persuaded their victims not to report the abuse but kept law enforcement from investigating it. 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.”1

“The report, which covered six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses and found more than 1,000 identifiable victims, is the broadest examination yet by a government agency in the United States of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The report said there are likely thousands more victims whose records were lost or who were too afraid to come forward.

It catalogs horrific instances of abuse: a priest who raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out; a victim tied up and whipped with leather straps by a priest; and another priest who was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.”2

It is now clear that in some cases, the cover-ups by senior church officials stretched all the way up to the Vatican. (There is serious concern that the real number of victimized children and abusive priests might be higher since some secret church records were lost and some victims never came forward.)

Beginning with the allegations that emerged out of Boston in 2002, the Catholic Church has repeatedly been rocked by sexual abuse scandals and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down. And so far they have paid billions of dollars in settlements but this new scandal is larger than all the others.

“In nearly every case, the Pennsylvania grand jury said, prosecutors found that the statute of limitations has run out, meaning criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead. Many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.

Authorities charged just two as a result of the grand jury investigation, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty, though some of those named were prosecuted years ago.”3

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops called for prayers for victims and for the church. They also promised their parishioners greater openness and said that the church is safer now than before, thanks to recent measures the church had instituted. (Do you believe that?)

Although several bishops, including Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh, rejected the idea that the church had concealed abuse, “There was no cover-up going on…We have over the course of the last 30 years, for sure, been transparent about everything that has in fact been transpiring,”4 the facts show something entirely different:5

  • church officials minimized abuse by using words like “inappropriate contact” instead of “rape”
  • assigned priests untrained in sexual abuse cases to investigate their colleagues
  • didn’t inform the community of the real reasons behind removing an accused priest, “Tell his parishioners that he is on ‘sick leave,’ or suffering from ‘nervous exhaustion.’ Or say nothing at all”

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office initiated the investigation, said “They protected their institution at all costs. As the grand jury found, the church showed a complete disdain for victims.”6 (Including a family whose five daughters had been abused by a priest, one of them beginning when she was just 18 months old.)

Why are these men, the ones who are still alive, not IN JAIL? Our hearts go out to all the victims and their families. We hope they can begin to find some peace.

Sources and References

  1. ABC News, August 15, 2018.
  2. NY Times, August 14, 2018.
  3. ABC News, August 15, 2018.
  4. NY Times, August 14, 2018.
  5. NY Times, August 14, 2018.
  6. NY Times, August 14, 2018.