A grand jury investigation into sexual abuse by Pennsylvania clergy members was released in an interim redacted form on Tuesday, revealing decades of mass sexual child abuse and cover-ups by six of Pennsylvania’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses.
According to NPR, the report is approximately 900 pages long, not including exhibits, and is considered to be the most comprehensive report of its kind. In the report, the grand jury details “criminal and/or morally reprehensible conduct” by roughly 300 “predator priests” across the state of Pennsylvania.
Additionally, the report reveals cover-ups by the dioceses of Scranton, Allentown, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Erie, and Pittsburgh.
The grand jury reviewed a half-million pages of internal church documents and “secret archives” which it says were readily available to bishops. A review of the documents found credible allegations by more than 1,000 victims; however, the grand jury suggests the real number of victims “is in the thousands.”
The grand jury said the abuse occurred in hundreds of parishes in 54 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties with allegations dating back at least 80 years. It also cited a pattern of cover-ups, including shoddy investigating by fellow clergy members and bishops often siding with priests over the victims.
Abusive priests were often shuffled around to protect them from repercussions and their actions often went unreported to the church officials overseeing the churches where the priests were moved.
One of the cases details the actions of a priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg who abused five sisters in a single family. Another priest, in the Diocese of Greensburg, married a 17-year-old girl he impregnated only to divorce her a month later.
In a third instance, a priest in the Diocese of Erie admitted to assaulting more than a dozen young boys. Despite this, the priest was later thanked by his bishop for “all that you have done for God’s people.”
The report also named Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., as contributing to the pattern of cover-ups. Wuerl served as the bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 through 2006 and allegedly was one of those who moved priests to new locations when allegations of abuse arose while also failing to report the instances of abuse.
In a letter released on Monday, however, Wuerl claimed he acted to protect children after learning of the abuse, saying he imposed a “zero tolerance” policy for clergy sex abuse.
In the report, the grand jury recommended eliminating the statute of limitation for child sexual abuse victims and called for a “civil window” law that would give victims a two-year period to retroactively file civil charges.
Currently, any victim of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania who turned 18 before August 27, 2002 is barred from filing criminal charges. Child victims also only have until their 30th birthday to file civil charges, regardless of when the sexual abuse occurred.
As for those implicated in the grand jury’s report, it is likely that long legal battles will follow, both in criminal and civil courts.
Time is of the essence when reporting and prosecuting child sex abusers. The quicker you report abuse, the quicker it stops. In addition, depending on what state you live in, there are deadlines for filing a lawsuit in an abuse case – also known as statute of limitations. Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t wait another day to come forward:
If you or your child were the victim of sexual abuse, contact Thomas J. Henry. For over two decades, Thomas J. Henry has been an advocate for sexually abused children across the state of Texas. Our experienced child injury lawyers are available 24/7, nights and weekends to take your call. Contact us today for a free legal consultation.