IMAGE: CNS photo/Tim Shaffer, Reuters
By Rhina Guidos
WASHINGTON (CNS) - A Pennsylvania
grand jury report issued Aug. 14 paints a picture of a Catholic Church in six
of the state's dioceses that for decades handled claims of sex abuse of minors
under its care by hiding the allegations and brushing aside its victims.
than 300 priests were linked to abuse claims and over 1,000 victims were
identified, said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a news
conference following the report's release.
"The main thing was
not to help children but to avoid 'scandal,'" says a biting sentence about the
behavior of church leaders and officials in the report, detailing a months-long
investigation of clergy sex abuse claims in the dioceses of Pittsburgh,
Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton, Greensburg and Erie.
The report of
almost 1,400 pages covers a period of 70 years into the past, including
information from the early 2000s, a time when news of the clerical sex abuse
scandal erupted in the U.S. Before its release, some urged that the report be
read keeping in mind that a lot has changed in the church since then, and also
that not all of the report's claims are substantiated.
In the Diocese of
Pittsburgh, for example, a few priests named in the report are still working
there because diocesan officials could not substantiate claims of abuse made against
them, Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik told local reporters Aug. 10.
Post-Gazette newspaper reported that Bishop Zubik said: "There is no priest or
deacon in an assignment today against whom there was a substantiated allegation
of child sexual abuse." He said he would explain the process to parishioners
following the report's release.
But there are many
In the news
conference, Shapiro described allegations of a priest who physically molested a
group of children by telling them he was doing a "cancer check," one who he
said "impregnated" a girl, others who had boys strike a religious pose naked to
take pictures of them. Shapiro spoke of a "systematic cover-up" by church
officials who took information to the Vatican, who also did nothing to help
victims. He also spoke of priests who "weaponized faith" and had the victims go
to confession for the sins that had just been committed against them.
Some of those who
testified before the grand jury were present for the release of the report.
Reporter Brandie Kessler, of The York Daily Record, tweeted: "Victims and
family members are being led in. I'm seeing a few people starting to cry."
Some bishops from
the six dioceses named responded almost immediately after the release.
"I read the grand
jury report on child sexual abuse with great sadness, for once again we read
that innocent children were the victims of horrific acts committed against
them," said Harrisburg's Bishop Ronald. W. Gainer in a statement shortly after
the document's release. "I am saddened because I know that behind every story
is a child precious in God's sight; a child who has been wounded by the sins of
those who should have known better."
Bishop Lawrence T. Persico of Erie appeared in a news
conference and took questions shortly after the report's release, saying he
wanted to address the victims and spoke of their "unimaginable pain" and suffering.
"You were betrayed
by people holding themselves out as servants of God," he said. "Each one of you
has your own story with pain and grief that is unique to you I don't know presume
to know ' I want to assure you that you are not responsible in any way for what
happened to you."
He said he offered "sincere
apologies" for each of victims.
"Because of the
report, the public will begin to understand your pain in a new way," he said,
pledging that the Diocese of Erie would not "shroud abusers in secrecy no matter
who they are and how long ago it took place."
Bishop Zubik said in a statement, "We are sorry, I am sorry. I
take this report to heart. It is a story of peoples' lives."
"No one who has
read it can be unaffected," he said, including many who are themselves victims
of child sexual abuse and its details would reopen wounds. But no doubt some
would feel "betrayed" by the church, too, he added.
"Today, I again
apologize to any person or family whose trust, faith and well-being has been
devastated by men who were ordained to be the image of Christ," he wrote. "Ever
since I first met victims of clergy child sexual abuse in 1988, I have seen the
immense pain that this crime causes to its victims, to their loved ones and to
the heart of Jesus. Their words break my heart. I have cried with them and for
them over the damage done to them and their families by men whose lives should
have been committed to protecting their souls from harm. I dedicate myself to
helping them and to doing everything possible to prevent such abuse from
He said the report
points out instances in the past when the church did not respond effectively to
"Swift and firm
responses to allegations should have started long before they did," he said. "For
that I express profound regret."
The grand jury said
it found in its investigation that those who claimed sexual abuse of their own
or of their children by Catholic clergy or other church workers were "brushed
aside," and officials became more concerned with protecting the abusers because
they wanted to protect the image of the church, the report says.
Some of those named in the report had their names redacted,
or blacked out, after challenging the inclusion of their identities in it
without having the legal opportunity to defend themselves. They are scheduled
to have a hearing with the court in September.
Some of the dioceses involved said they would release the
names of those facing "credible allegations" in the report when the document
was made public and some of them did so immediately.
The Diocese of Erie added five names to its list Aug. 14
and those names were not included in the grand jury report, said Bishop
Persico. Some, such as the Diocese of Harrisburg, made its list public Aug. 1,
updating it Aug. 6, adding the name of an accused priest to it after
receiving "additional information."
"We again emphasize that this is a list of accusations; we
did not make assessments of credibility or guilt in creating this list," a
statement from the diocese said.
Not all who are accused of sexual abuse or of covering it up
in the report are priests. Some on the lists released by dioceses are deacons,
some are seminarians, teachers or other church workers, and some are no longer
alive. Some are accused of being in possession of child pornography, others of
inappropriate touching, kissing, soliciting a child for sex, but most are
listed as "sexually abusing a child."
Following the sex abuse crisis in 2000, the U.S. bishops in
2002 approved procedures and protocols for addressing allegations of abuse. But Shapiro seemed to cast doubt that it was enough.
"They claimed to have changed their ways," he said.
The development comes as the Catholic Church in the United
States finds itself grappling with the late July resignation from the College
of Cardinals of a beloved and respected retired prelate, now-Archbishop
Theodore E. McCarrick, 88, of Washington, following decades-old allegations
that he sexually abused seminarians and at least two minors. He has been
removed from public ministry, as of June 20, and is awaiting a Vatican trial.
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