Harrisburg, PA – A statewide grand jury investigation report released Tuesday showed that more than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania had sexually abused children over a 70-year period, and were protected by a church cover-up.
“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 wrote in its report, according to The Washington Post.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference to release the report on Aug. 14 that the investigation had identified at least 1,000 child victims, but they suspected there were thousands more.
Shapiro said the 18-month investigation had included six of the state’s dioceses and followed other state grand jury reports that revealed abuse and cover-ups in two other dioceses, The Washington Post reported.
However, the report did not include the Philadelphia or Johnstown-Altoona diocese because those had already been included in three vicious grand jury reports, FOX News reported.
Shapiro said the grand jury had reviewed more than two million documents, including those from the “secret archives,” where church leaders hid reports of abuse for decades.
The statute of limitations in Pennsylvania allows victims of child sex abuse to file civil suits until they are 30 years old, and to press criminal charges until the victim is 50 years old, The Washington Post reported. The oldest victim the grand jury interviewed for their report was 83 years old.
The report said that because of the delay caused by the church’s cover-up of the abuse, almost every instance found by the grand jury was too old to prosecute.
“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,” Shapiro said.
There were graphic details from witness statements throughout the report, and about 15 victims joined the attorney general on the dais for the announcement of the report, according to The Washington Post.
State Rep. Mark Rozzi used the platform to call for new laws that would eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of sexual abuse of children.
Rozzi told The Washington Post he had been raped at his Catholic school by a priest in Berks County. He said the same priest sexually abused one of his friends, who went on to kill himself in 2009.
The report also detailed the rape of a seven-year-old girl by a priest who was visiting her in the hospital, and a priest who washed out a nine-year-old boy’s mouth with Holy Water after he forced the boy to perform oral sex on him, FOX News reported.
Recent church abuse scandals have popped up internationally in Chile and Australia, prompting U.S. authorities to review accusations that Catholic Church officials in the United States had covered up crimes, according to The Washington Post.
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the grand jury wrote in the roughly 900-page report, according to FOX News. “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.”
The conspiracy extended beyond church officials, according to the report. The grand jury found that some police officers and prosecutors failed to investigate or ignored complaints out of deference to church officials.
The report was released at a time when the Catholic Church is already under intense scrutiny.
In July, the former archbishop of the Washington diocese – 88-year-old Cardinal Theodore McCarrick – was stripped of his title by Pope Francis after he was accused of sexually abusing little boys and adults for years, The Washington Post reported.
His replacement, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, was featured prominently in the grand jury report because he was bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese from 1988 to 2006.
The grand jury described Wuerl’s responses to complaints as a mix of well-intentioned and obfuscatory. He stopped some abusive priests from working in his diocese, but helped others to return to their parishes, according to The Washington Post.
“While I understand this Report may be critical of some of my actions, I believe the Report confirms that I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse,” Wuerl defended himself when the grand jury report was released.