By Steve Pope and Terri Hill | August 14, 2018
Shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released the highly anticipated grand jury report concerning allegations of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy that identified over 300 priests and over 1,000 child victims.
The 884-page report documents decades of sexual assaults and rapes of children by “predator priests” and the institutional cover ups that followed by senior church officials, including at times, the Vatican.
The report which was completed over an 18-month period, provides in-depth and shocking detail of over 1,000 children victimized sexually by 301 “predator priests,” with the grand jury noting it believed the real number of victims was in the “thousands.”
“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.
The report recounts a particularly disturbing case of abuse out of the Diocese of Scranton where one priest, Thomas Skotek, allegedly raped a young girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion.
In response to the alleged abuse, Bishop James Timlin expressed his feelings in a letter to the priest — not to the girl saying: “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.”
Senior church officials, including bishops, monsignors and others, including those in the Vatican, were aware of the abuses committed by priests, but routinely covered it up to avoid scandal, criminal charges against priests, and monetary damages to the dioceses.
With the assistance of the FBI the grand jury documented a system used by church officials to hide the abuses, including the use of code words in church documents.
“First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents,” the report said. “Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”
Priests who committed acts of sexual abuse upon children, and were routinely shuttled to other parishes, while parishioners were left unaware of sexual predators in their midst.
“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 church handled alleged abuse by clergy as a “personnel matter” as opposed to reporting the allegations to police and simply moved priests suspected of abusing children to other locations.
In all, the report identified 41 priests from Erie; 37 from Allentown; 20 from Greensburg; 99 from Pittsburgh; 45 from Harrisburg and 59 from Scranton who the grand jury alleged abused children.
Names of 13 clergy members were redacted from the report because they have filed objections pursuant to an order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Arguments are scheduled in September over whether or not the names will remain shielded from disclosure.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro whose efforts led to the report’s release, referred to the clergy members who objected to their names being released as “cowards” and said, “Shamefully, these petitioners still don’t have the courage to tell the public who they are.”
On its website the Diocese of Greensburg listed the names of 21 clergy members with, “credible and substantiated allegations” of abuse, but added in a statement, “Neither of the independent file reviews revealed any credible and substantiated allegations of prior sexual misconduct by a priest currently serving in the Diocese of Greensburg.”
The grand jury recommended four substantial changes to Pennsylvania law that would make it easier to criminally charge those suspected of abuse and for abuse victims to seek compensation from their abusers:
- Eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children. Current law permits victims to come forward until age 50.
- Create a “civil window” so older victims may now sue for damages. Current law gives child sex abuse victims 12 years to sue, once they turn 18. But victims in their 30s and older fall under a different law; they only get two years.
- Clarify penalties for a continuing failure to report child abuse. The grand jury recommends changing the abuse reporting law to clarify the duty to report abuse.
- Specify that Civil Confidentiality Agreements do not cover communications with law enforcement. The grand jury wrote that the Church has used confidentiality agreements as a way to silence abuse victims from speaking publicly or cooperating with law enforcement.
Diocese of Pittsburgh David Zubik apologized in a statement posted on its website saying ” We cannot bury our heads in the sand. There were instances in the past as outlined in this report, when the Church acted in ways that did not respond effectively to victims. Swift and firm responses to allegations should have started long before they did For that I express regret. At the same time, I express gratitude to survivors who have taught us to respond with compassion to those who are wounded and with determination to remove offenders from ministry.”
Steve Pope can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and Terri Hill can be contacted at email@example.com