Roman Catholic Bishops in six of eight Pennsylvania dioceses willfully engaged in a “systematic cover-up campaign” to silence victims of sexual abuse until it was too late to press charges, according to state officials and written confessions.
Secret archives detail numerous examples, so graphically shocking that readers are advised the following content may be disturbing. “Priests were raping little boys and girls” and “they hid it all for decades.”
Over a 70-year span, “Thousands of children” were abused. An 884 page grand jury report was made public Tuesday by the commonwealth’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro. The perversion was so well hidden that out of 301 priests accused, “only two of the priests are still subject to prosecution,” the report confirms.
The exploitation was so bad, some priests would “mark” their playmates. “To make it easier to target their victims, the priests gave their favored boys gifts, gold crosses to wear as necklaces. The crosses were markings of which boys had been groomed for abuse,” Shapiro noted.
In some cases, the children’s faith was turned against them like a weapon. “Children were taught that this abuse was not only normal but that it was holy,” Shapiro emphasized.
He described how one repulsively sick priest told his victims “Mary had to lick Jesus clean after he was born,” allegedly as part of the process to “groom them for oral sex.”
A third of the accused priests operated in the Pittsburgh diocese. One group of four was especially heinous in the way they “groomed and violently sexually assaulted young boys.”
One boy was “forced to stand on a bed in a rectory, strip naked and pose as Christ on the cross for a group of Pittsburgh priests. They took photos of their victim, adding them to a collection of child pornography which they produced and shared on church grounds,” relates Shapiro.
The investigation covered a full two years, largely based on the church documents. According to the prosecutor, the records were all in “secret archives kept by the dioceses including handwritten confessions by priests.”
Since convened in 2016, the grand jury “heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed more than a half-million pages of internal documents from the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses.”
Internet local news outlet Philly reports, “The two Pennsylvania dioceses not covered by the probe – Altoona-Johnstown and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia – had been scrutinized in past investigations.”
There were 1000 cataloged examples but the grand jury noted “the real number” of molested children might be “in the thousands.” Attorney General Shapiro emotionally added, “it was child sexual abuse, including rape, committed by grown men, priests, against children.”
“The pattern was abuse, deny and cover up,” Shapiro explained at a press conference. He noted how the entire point was to “keep abuse allegations quiet long enough so they could no longer be prosecuted under Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.”
Under Pennsylvania law, “victims of child sex abuse have until they are 30 to file civil suits and until they are 50 to file criminal charges.” Shapiro points out that “the oldest victim who spoke to the grand jury was 83.” Shapiro adds, “We all wish more charges could be filed, but due to the church’s manipulation of our weak laws in Pennsylvania, too many predators were out of reach.”
Even state Rep. Mark Rozzi (D) was touched by the scandal. In an interview with The Post, he noted, he “was raped by a priest at his Catholic school in Berks County, Pa.” The very same priest, he said, “sexually abused one of his childhood friends, who killed himself in 2009.”
The report “shows a consistent pattern of bishops having prior knowledge of the actions of predatory priests, reassigning them and not alerting law enforcement.”
A total of 301 priests were named in the report, of those, some already had to answer to St. Peter for their crimes, since they already died. Only two of the accused are still eligible to be prosecuted for their crimes.
Various clergymen named in the report scrambled to the courthouse, pleading with the judge to have their names redacted prior to the report’s public release. The judge agreed to block release pending final resolution in court, scheduled for September.
More than “a dozen names” were redacted. Two undisclosed dioceses are reported to have “decided to strip the accused of their anonymity ahead of the report and released the names of clergy members who were accused of sexual misconduct.”
Despite the horrors inflicted on thousands of children over more than half a century, the cover-up makes it even worse.
“One priest,” the grand jury reports, “had molested five sisters in one family.” The diocese, Shapiro insists, “settled with the family after requiring a confidentiality agreement.”
It was standard procedure for bishops to gloss over discovered abuse by moving the priests from parish to parish. By doing that, Shapiro says, “they allowed priests to remain active for as long as 40 years.” Not just active as priests, active as child molesters.
Investigators state “the cover-up was sophisticated.” Amazingly, church leaders “kept records of the abuse and the cover-up. These documents, from the dioceses’ own ‘Secret Archives,’ formed the backbone of this investigation.”
After what is being described as “the most comprehensive report on Catholic clergy sex abuse in American history,” several of the dioceses released apology statements. “The grand jury has challenged us as a Catholic diocese to put victims first and continue to improve ways to protect children and youth,” the statement released by Erie Diocese Bishop Lawrence Persico relates.
The Vatican press office has not yet released a statement or other comment.