WARNING: Some of the content of this article may be graphic in nature and offensive to the reader.
HARRISBURG – A State Grand Jury has reported 301 Pennsylvania Catholic priests have sexually abused or raped more than 1,000 youth over a series of years and that church officials not only knew, but tried to cover up the scandals, according to the report. In addition, the report says the Federal Bureau of Investigation was performing behavioral analysis of the situation.
“While each church district had its idiosyncrasies, the pattern was pretty much the same. The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid ‘scandal.’ That is not our word, but theirs; it appears over and over again in the documents we recovered. Abuse complaints were kept locked up in a ‘secret archive.’ That is not our word, but theirs; the church’s Code of Canon Law specifically requires the diocese to maintain such an archive. Only the bishop can have the key. The strategies were so common that they were susceptible to behavioral analysis by the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” the Grand Jury reported.
The Grand Jury listened to testimony of dozens of witnesses and reviewed more than a half million pages of diocese internal documents. The report noted that some of the priests had died and others were protected because the statute of limitations had expired. In other cases, potential victims failed to come forward, either by being talked out of it, or from fear or embarrassment.
“Most of the victims were boys; but there were girls too. Some were teens; many were prepubescent. 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,” the report said. “As a consequence of the cover-up, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted. But that is not to say there are no more predators. This grand jury has issued presentments against a priest in the Greensburg diocese and a priest in the Erie Diocese, who has been sexually assaulting children within the last decade. We learned of these abusers directly from their dioceses – which we hope is a sign that the church is finally changing its ways. And there may be more indictments in the future; investigation continues.”
“They contained credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests. Over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the church’s own records. We believe that the real number – of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward – is in the thousands.”
With help from the FBI, the Grand Jury discovered a “playbook for concealing the truth.”
The church routinely used euphemisms to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents.
“Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues,” the report reads.
Secondly, instead of conducting legitimate investigations with properly trained personnel, church officials “assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work,” the report said.
In addition, “for an appearance of integrity, send priests for “evaluation” at church-run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to “diagnose” whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s “self-reports,” and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.”
The report went on to say the church failed to tell parishioners why a particular priest was removed.
“Tell his parishioners that he is on “sick leave,” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Or say nothing at all.”
Jury members also argued that the church knowingly continued to support priests accused of rape or molestation.
“Even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults. Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser,” the report said.
Finally, the report noted “above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, “in house.”
This is part one of a four part series.