Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report Rocks Catholic Church

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on sex abuse in Pennsylvania Catholic churches was released this week and is the most comprehensive of its kind in the nation.  The report names more than 300 priests as sexual predators and 1,000 child victims of sexual abuse.

There have been ten such reports issued by grand juries across the country, but none have been as comprehensive as this one.  The Pennsylvania report covers six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton.  Pennsylvania’s two other dioceses, Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, were the subjects of earlier grand jury reports, which found similarly damaging information about clergy and bishops in those dioceses.

In nearly all of the cases investigated, the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed.  More than 100 of the priests are dead, and many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.

“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated,” the grand jurors said.  However, they added, “There may be more indictments in the future; investigation continues.”

The grand jury accused Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who now leads the Archdiocese of Washington (DC), of helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh’s bishop. Wuerl, who led the Pittsburgh diocese from 1988 to 2006, disputed the allegations.

The grand jury went forward with its investigation knowing that most of the crimes uncovered would be too old to prosecute because the investigation itself was important to the victims and the public.  This also is why Attorney General Shapiro is fighting a challenge from clergy named in the report to make the report public.  That fight continues before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The report cites 301 priests, clergy and lay teachers with credible allegations against them. There are 99 in the Diocese of Pittsburgh alone.

Of those 99, a group of four were particularly reprehensible in the way they groomed and violently sexually assaulted young boys, said Shapiro.  For example, “One boy was forced to stand on a bed in a rectory, strip naked and pose as Christ on the cross for the priests. They took photos of their victim, adding them to a collection of child pornography which they produced and shared on church grounds,” Shapiro said.

The report also states:

  • “All victims were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all. The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid scandal.”
  • “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.”
  • “Diocesan administrators, including the Bishops, had knowledge of this conduct and yet priests were regularly placed in ministry after the Diocese was on notice that a complaint of child sexual abuse had been made. This conduct enabled offenders and endangered the welfare of children.”

At least two of the Pennsylvania bishops tried to exonerate themselves.  Former Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl maintained that he tried to help victims but the report showed no evidence of such help.  Current Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubick went so far as to state that the Catholic Church has been transparent and continues to be transparent.  Many clergy named in the report are fighting in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to keep their names redacted from the published report.

This report is a devastating indictment of the Catholic Church in the Keystone state.  Under the leadership of Attorney General Shapiro, Pennsylvania did the right thing by giving victims of abuse a voice before the grand jury.  Only by exposing and understanding the complete history of sexual abuse and exploitation of children in any organization will children today be safe.  More states should conduct similar grand jury investigations.

Dumas Law Group has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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