Pennsylvania Report Details Decades of Sexual Abuse by Priests | Sojourners

Pennsylvania Report Details Decades of Sexual Abuse by Priests

Image via REUTERS/Max Rossi

Over a period of 70 years, Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania sexually abused thousands of children while bishops ran a systemic cover-up campaign, according to the state attorney general.

The findings are detailed in a report, released Tuesday by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Sharpio, based on a two-year investigation by a grand jury. After reviewing half a million pages of internal documents in each of the six Pennsylvania dioceses that were investigated, the grand jury compiled an 884-page document that contains graphic details of abuse and names of the priests accused of that abuse. The report also includes handwritten confessions by the priests themselves that were covered up by bishops.

Sharpio said that Catholic bishops covered up the abuse by priests by reassigning them repeatedly to other parishes.

"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.

From the document: 

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 report cited 301 priests who are accused of abuse. As a consequence of the cover up, only two priests are subject to prosecution — some abusers died and other cases are too old to prosecute. There were more than 1,000 victims identified in the report, mostly boys, but more victims are believed to exist.

According to the report, priests also weaponized faith to silence victims, making abused children believe that the abuse was not only normal, but holy.

The full document can be found here. (Editor’s Note: The document contains disturbing accounts.)

Reuters reporting contributed to this story.