Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused thousands of children over a 70-year period and silenced victims through “the weaponization of faith” and a systematic cover-up campaign by their bishops, the state attorney general said on Tuesday (August 14).
An 884-page report made public by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro after a two-year investigation contained graphic examples of children being groomed and sexually abused by clergymen. It was largely based on documents from secret archives kept by the dioceses, including handwritten confessions by priests, he said.
“It was child sexual abuse, including rape, committed by grown men – priests – against children,” Shapiro told a press conference.
The attorney general said it was the most comprehensive report on Catholic clergy sex abuse in American history, nearly two decades after an expose of widespread abuse and cover-up in Boston that rocked the Roman Catholic church.
Several of the dioceses issued statements apologizing to victims and saying they were taking steps to ensure any criminal behavior was stopped. “The grand jury has challenged us as a Catholic diocese to put victims first and to continue to improve ways to protect children and youth,” Bishop Lawrence Persico of the Erie Diocese said in a statement.
As accusers wept behind him, Shapiro described alleged abuse by priests in six of the state’s eight dioceses, including a group of Pittsburgh clergymen accused of ordering an altar boy to strip naked and pose as Christ on the cross while they photographed him.
“The pattern was abuse, deny and cover up,” Shapiro said, adding that church officials sought to keep abuse allegations quiet long enough so they could no longer be prosecuted under Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.
“Priests were raping little boys and girls,” Shapiro said. “They hid it all for decades.”
The report cited 301 priests, some of whom have died. Only two of the priests are still subject to prosecution. — Reuters