A massive report detailing the results of investigations into child sexual abuse in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses has been released — although heavily redacted — and it shines a light on just how widespread the abuse and cover-up was. It implicates more than 300 “predator priests” and the people who helped cover up their crimes. And it says that victims’ calls for help “were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.”
By way of background, in 2016, we learned that the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown was home to more than one hundred instances of abuse by “at least 50 priests.” And that was just one diocese! With fewer than 100,000 members, no less, making for an astonishing and heartbreaking ratio. They eventually implemented a number of protocols to prevent such crimes in the future. It wasn’t nearly enough, but it was a start.
It got worse after that. A grand jury investigation looked into six of the eight dioceses in the states — in Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton — and the attorney general was expected to release an 884-page report on what they found to the public. (The bishops in all six dioceses have already seen the report.) In theory, that report would describe other instances of abuse that was ignored or covered up. It was going to be a bombshell against the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, in June, the state’s Supreme Court ordered a stay on the report. While an official reason wasn’t given at the time, it appeared that some of the priests whose name appeared in the report feared the harm it would cause to their reputations, particularly because they had not been indicted. (An accusation isn’t a conviction, after all.)
To be clear, the bishops weren’t asking for this delay. But it was implemented anyway. The report has finally been released today — but with several names hidden from public view.
Still. The report is out. It’s 1,356 pages long and it covers a period of more than 70 years. The Washington Post put it in context earlier today:
The looming question is who the report will implicate. The Post-Gazette reported that it reveals not just “how bishops handled or mishandled cases of abusive priests, but whether they were aided by community and political leaders in alleged obstruction of justice.”
The investigation took about two years. The report’s length is expected to be from 8oo to 1,000 pages, the Post-Gazette reported. It covers all dioceses except the two already studied — Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown. Pennsylvania is believed to have done more investigations of institutional child sex abuse than any other state.
What does it say? It’ll take a while to get through the whole thing, but here’s a disturbing couple of passages from the introduction:
Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were pre-pubescent. Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography. Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.
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. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.
By the way, before the report even came out, the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue was working hard to discredit it because, in his mind, priests are always more important than the people they abuse.
Many of those named are not priests: the list includes lay persons, deacons, and seminarians… Many — perhaps a majority — are dead, and cannot rebut the accusations… Even among the living, most have not had an opportunity to rebut the accusations.
Many of those who are named are priests, and many Church leaders helped them cover up their crimes. The report makes clear what’s an allegation, what’s confirmed by the facts, and what happened in the aftermath. Donohue, who always tries to draw attention elsewhere, also argues there’s no similar report about abuse in public schools. But if teachers molested kids at the same rate found in the Catholic Church, with principals and superintendents covering it all up while students go public with their allegations, there sure as shit would be. And remember: The Church thinks of itself as a moral authority. Given the history of how its swept these problems under a rug for so long, it’s about damn time we heard the truth.
No wonder people like Donohue want it all to remain hidden.