WARNING: Graphic Images
Pennsylvania Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, this week released the results of what may be the most comprehensive state investigation into child sexual abuse and cover-up by the Roman Catholic Church in the nation’s history [1A].
Examining over 70 years of church records, the grand jury investigation identified 301 predator priests, and more than 1000 child victims, across six dioceses (Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton). Sexual abuse by priests was earlier uncovered in two other Pennsylvania dioceses (Philadelphia and Altoona).
The Catholic Church sex scandal first began to surface in the 1980s . A seminal investigation by the Boston Globe in 2002 led to the criminal prosecution of five predator priests .
Subsequent investigations revealed a widespread pattern of abuse across the United States and the globe, with an institutional cover-up extending to the Vatican. Despite complaints, predator priests were moved seamlessly from parish to parish, and allowed to continue in ministry, sometimes for decades.
As Shapiro expressed it:
“Church officials routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling and inappropriate conduct. It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse, including rape [1B].”
Some 17,000 victims have come forward in the US. Papal apologies and new protocols have done little to correct the situation.
Victims were primarily boys. However, girls were victimized, as well. One 9 y.o. had his mouth washed out with holy water after oral sex . Another victim was 18 months of age, and still in diapers.
Along with oral sex, abuse included groping, forced masturbation, vaginal and anal penetration.
When complaints were made to church hierarchy, victims were accused of fabricating lies (or seduction, if pregnancy resulted).
Tragically, most of the predator priests identified by this investigation will never be brought to justice. Many have died or aged beyond prosecution. Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations bars suits for monetary damages after victims turn 30 y.o. The state cannot file criminal charges after victims turn 50 y.o.
Fifteen US dioceses and archdioceses have filed for bankruptcy protection, as a consequence of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. Last month, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington stepped down – the most senior resignation to date .
Lack of Transparency
The Catholic Church still does not make its investigations or disciplinary proceedings public.
The church does not release the data it gathers; has not set up an internal tribunal for bishops accused of cover-up, despite the recommendation of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors established in 2014; and allows church leaders involved in cover-up to resign without explanation.
As important, it has failed to establish guidelines on how to respond to complaints of sexual abuse or cooperate with civil authorities.
[1A and 1B] Huffington Post, “Catholic Church Covered Up Child Abuse by 301 Priests in Pennsylvania: Report” by Carol Kuruvilla, 8/14/18, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/pennsylvania-report-catholic-clergy-sex-abuse-scandal_us_5b2d4062e4b00295f15c56db.
 Wikipedia, “Catholic Church sexual abuse cases”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_sexual_abuse_cases.
 Wikipedia, “Catholic Archdiocese of Boston sex abuse scandal”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Archdiocese_of_Boston_sex_abuse_scandal.
 Pope Francis, himself, had defended Bishop Juan Barros of Chile, long accused of participating in and covering up abuse. Five Chilean bishops have since resigned. See, The Guardian (Reuters), “Pope Francis in Chile sexual abuse scandal: ‘I was part of the problem’ “, 5/2/18, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/02/pope-francis-chile-sexual-abuse-scandal-part-of-problem.
 Washington Post, “Why the Vatican continues to struggle with sex abuse scandals” by Chico Harlan, 8/12/18, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/why-the-vatican-continues-to-struggle-with-sex-abuse-scandals/2018/08/12/483e16e2-9439-11e8-818b-e9b7348cd87d_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.545efc28783b .
 Metro, “Priest made boy, 9, give him oral sex then washed his mouth out with holy water” by Jim McCloskey, 8/15/18, https://metro.co.uk/2018/08/15/priest-made-boy-9-give-oral-sex-washed-mouth-holy-water-7844069/.
Sexual abuse in the evangelical church will be addressed in Part 2 of this series
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