Catholic Sexual Abuse on an Industrial Scale

catholic abuseThe Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has formally published a 1,400-page report into the sexual abuse of little boys and girls. It is such a common story from almost every corner of the planet touched by Catholicism that you might perhaps expect to be immune to shock, and yet the scale of this still delivers quite a punch.

Key Highlights

  • The investigation ran for 18 months and covers six of the state’s dioceses — Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.
  • They reviewed more than 2 million documents, including “secret archives” – that’s a term that basically means hard solid evidence that the Catholic church conspired to cover up and keep hidden so that you did not get to find out about it.
  • More than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania sexually abused children over seven decades – 300 is a truly shocking number. Up until now the scale has not been known because church authorities conspired to keep it all secret.
  • The report identifies over 1,000 victims, but suggests that there are probably many thousands more.

Press Conference

Here is the press conference that launched the report …


You can find an online redacted copy of the report here. Some parts have been redacted for legal reasons on a temporary basis at this point in time. The publication of the redacted version is a legal victory. Many of the priests named have been fighting “legally” to keep the entire report buried.

(You can download a pdf copy from here)

To put that another way, they were attempting to cover up the cover up.

Last month, the state Supreme Court authorized the release of the redacted version — minus the petitioners’ identifying information — at least until the justices can hear arguments on those underlying claims.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Tuesday that his office would continue pressing for the entire report’s public release. 

There are his precise words …

“Let me be very clear: My office is not satisfied with the release of a redacted report. Every redaction represents an incomplete story of abuse that deserves to be told,” he said. “You can be certain that we will fight vigorously to remove ever redaction and tell every story of abuse,” he said.

On Sept. 26, the state’s Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on whether the redactions should be lifted.

No repercussions

The report explains …

“As a consequence of the coverup, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted.”

… and that is truly shocking.

The Words of the report itself – extracts

The report can and should be highlighted. What follows is a brief series of extracts that I’ve taken directly from the report …

Opening words – You need to read this

We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have heard some of it before. There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.

…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.

…We are going to name their names, and describe what they did – both the sex offenders and those who concealed them. We are going to shine a light on their conduct, because that is what the victims deserve. And we are going to make
our recommendations for how the laws should change so that maybe no one will have to conduct another inquiry like this one. We hereby exercise our historical and statutory right as grand jurors to inform the public of our findings.

… 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 coverup playbook is spelled out in detail

Special agents testified before us that they had identified a series of practices that regularly appeared, in various configurations, in the diocesan files they had analyzed. It’s like a playbook for concealing the truth:

First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”

Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.

Third, 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.

Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on “sick leave,” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Or say nothing at all.

Fifth, 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.

Finally and 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.”

Church Distain for victims

In the Diocese of Erie, despite a priest’s admission to assaulting at least a dozen young boys, the bishop wrote to thank him for “all that you have done for God’s people…. The Lord, who sees in private, will reward.” Another priest confessed to anal and oral rape of at least 15 boys, as young as seven years old. The bishop later met with the abuser to commend him as “a person of candor and sincerity,” and to compliment him “for the progress he has made” in controlling his “addiction.” When the abuser was finally removed from the priesthood years later, the bishop ordered the parish not to say why; “nothing else need be noted.”

In the Diocese of Greensburg, a priest impregnated a 17 -year -old, forged the head pastor’s signature on a marriage certificate, then divorced the girl months later. Despite having sex with a minor, despite fathering a child, despite being married and being divorced, the priest was permitted to stay in ministry thanks to the diocese’s efforts to find a “benevolent bishop” in another state willing to take him on. Another priest, grooming his middle school students for oral sex, taught them how Mary had to “bite off the cord” and “lick” Jesus clean after he was born. It took another 15 years, and numerous additional reports of abuse, before the diocese finally removed the priest from ministry.

A priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg abused five sisters in a single family, despite prior reports that were never acted on. In addition to sex acts, the priest collected samples of the girls’ urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood. Eventually, his house was searched and his collection was found. Without that kind of incontrovertible evidence, apparently, the diocese remained unwilling to err on the side of children even in the face of multiple reports of abuse. As a high-ranking official said about one suspect priest: “At this point we are at impasse – allegations and no admission.” Years later, the abuser did admit what he had done, but by then it was too late. Elsewhere we saw the same sort of disturbing disdain for victims.

In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, church officials dismissed an incident of abuse on the ground that the 15 -year -old had “pursued” the priest and “literally seduced” him into a relationship. After the priest was arrested, the church submitted an evaluation on his behalf to the court. The evaluation acknowledged that the priest had admitted to “sado-masochistic” activities with several boys – but the sado-masochism was only “mild,” and at least the priest was not “psychotic.”

The Diocese of Scranton also chose to defend its clergy abusers over its children. A diocese priest was arrested and convicted after decades of abuse reports that had been ignored by the church. The bishop finally took action only as the sentencing date approached. He wrote a letter to the judge, with a copy to a state senator, urging the court to release the defendant to a Catholic treatment center. He emphasized the high cost of incarceration. In another case, a priest raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The bishop expressed his feelings in a letter: “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.” But the letter was not for the girl. It was addressed to the rapist.

The Abuse continues to this very day

We know that child abuse in the church has not yet disappeared, because we are charging two priests, in two different dioceses, with crimes that fall within the statute of limitations. One of these priests ejaculated in the mouth of a seven -year -old.

The other assaulted two different boys, on a monthly basis, for a period of years that ended only in 2010. And we know there might be many additional recent victims, who have not yet developed the resources to come forward either to police or to the church. As we have learned from the experiences of the victims who we saw, it takes time. We hope this report will encourage others to speak.

No accountability.

despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability. 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.

It is literally life and death …

During our deliberations, one of the victims who had appeared before us tried to kill herself. From her hospital bed, she asked for one thing: that we finish our work and tell the world what really happened. We feel a debt to this woman, and to the many other victims who so exposed themselves by giving us their stories. We hope this report will make good on what we owe.

The Issue is not just the Abuse itself – it is also about the coverup

I’d like to switch focus here and turn to a Vox article that covers the responses by the Vatican over the years …

John Paul did not do very well …

While Pope John Paul II condemned clergy abuse as an “appalling sin,” he urged Catholics to focus on the “power of Christian conversion” — redemption — for abusers, and blamed bishops’ poor handling of the crisis as rooted in “the advice of clinical experts,” meaning therapists.

His successor was an utter disaster and revealed to have been the protecter or an abuser. There was a reason he stepped down from being pope …

Pope Benedict XVI, fared a little better. He handed over control of dealing with priest allegations to the centralized office of the Doctrine of the Congregation of the Faith, which he personally oversaw. Under his watch, the church defrocked 384 priests who’d been accused of child sex abuse. Benedict met with victims, including five from the Boston Archdiocese.

But according to his critics, Benedict did not go far enough. He allowed bishops found of protecting abusive priests, like Kansas’s Robert Finn — who was criminally convicted and sentenced to probation for failing to report child pornography on a junior priest’s computer — to remain in office after his conviction. He instituted new rules to bar men with same-sex attraction from priestly office, seen by many as an unnecessary and insulting move.

And in 2010, revelations emerged that Benedict himself, as an archbishop in Munich in the 1980s, had been responsible for overseeing the transfer into therapy of a German priest accused of child sex abuse. That priest was later cleared for reentry into pastoral work, only to commit further sexual abuse and ultimately be prosecuted for it.

.. and as for the current holder of the position …

Shortly after becoming pope, Francis announced the creation of a Vatican committee to fight sex abuse in the church. He also publicly apologized for the Vatican’s actions, expressing regret that “personal, moral damage” had been “carried out by men of the Church.” He also announced that any priest who had enabled abuse by moving an abuser to another parish should resign.

However, progress has been slow. In 2016, the Vatican committee scrapped a proposal that any senior cleric accused of covering up abuse be subject to an internal tribunal, angering victim advocates. That same year, Marie Collins, an abuse survivor, stepped down from the committee, calling the Vatican’s lack of progress “shameful.”

Francis, too, has vocally cast doubt on accusers. Most notably, late last year, he took a defensive stance when confronted with the case of Father Juan Barros, a Chilean priest accused of covering up the systematic child abuse of another priest, Father Fernando Karadima, calling the allegations “calumny.” (He later apologized for his remarks, and the entire Chilean bishopric resigned under pressure.)

So what will be the Vatican response to this new bombshell?

Initially silence, then most probably more of the same. Lots of PR, but little meaningful action of any real substance.

If any other non-religious organisation had behaved like this then they would have fallen apart when exposed. This however is one of the most successful religious organisations ever seen and so they will do what they do best. Basically they will ride out the storm and hope that in a generation or two it will have all been forgotten.

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