A detailed report released this week by a grand jury in Pennsylvania reveals the evidence collected over a two-year investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against children within the state’s Roman Catholic leadership.
According to USA Today, at least 300 priests were connected to the claims, which the grand jury found credible. Furthermore, the report claims six dioceses in the state actively worked to protect accused priests from facing consequences that could inflict further damage on the church.
The grand jury investigation spanned decades of claims and provides details about the ways Catholic officials are accused of silencing witnesses and halting law enforcement probes.
“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 report read.
Instead of focusing on the well-being of more than 1,000 abused children, these religious leaders are accused of dedicating their efforts to avoiding a scandal.
“Several diocesan administrators, including the bishops, often dissuaded victims from reporting abuse to police, pressured law enforcement to terminate or avoid an investigation or conducted their own deficient, biased investigation without reporting crimes against children to the proper authorities,” the grand jury report concluded.
Among the individuals identified in the report is a priest who pleaded guilty earlier this year to felony charges that he sexually abused a 10-year-old boy about two decades ago.
The window for charges in several other cases has closed due to the statute of limitations or the death of the accused.
The report covers an area populated by nearly 2 million Catholics in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Scranton, Erie, Harrisburg, Allentown and Greensburg.
A former Pittsburgh bishop released a statement to Catholic leaders explaining that his diocese had a “zero tolerance policy” regarding claims of abuse by priests.
“It moved me not simply to address these acts, but to be fully engaged, to meet with survivors and their families, and to do what I could to bring them comfort and try to begin a process for healing,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl wrote.
Other dioceses addressed in the report have responded, including a purge of dozens in Erie who are no longer permitted to work with children because of credible accusations of abuse.
“The most important thing I want to do at this moment is to express my sorrow to the victims of sexual abuse that occurred within the Diocese of Erie,” wrote Bishop Lawrence Persico. “They have experienced cruel behavior by the very individuals who should have had the greatest interest in protecting them.”
A letter from the Harrisburg diocese similarly identified those accused of abuse, and Bishop Ronald Gainer apologized to victims and others impacted by the scandal.
“That conduct has left a legacy of pain and sorrow that is still being felt,” he wrote. “I apologize for these actions.”
Similar allegations were revealed in the state as part of another grand jury probe. That report cited evidence of extensive abuse within the archdiocese of Philadelphia and the diocese in Altoona-Johnstown.
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