Hundreds of Priests and Thousands of Victims: Catholic Church Abuse and Cover-Up Detailed in Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report

[Content Note: Sex abuse by clergy; descriptions of assault and grooming.]

Yesterday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a press conference at which he discussed the release of a 1,356-page grand jury report "alleging decades of sexual abuse and cover-ups by Roman Catholic officials across the state." The document "is the culmination of the Pa. Attorney General Office's investigation into seven decades of allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, and Scranton. The two other Pennsylvanian Catholic dioceses of Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown were also investigated in recent years."

Video of the entire press conference is below. (I haven't yet been able to locate a complete transcript.) It is incredibly difficult viewing, as Shapiro details some of the abuses, which are nearly unfathomable in scope, and some of the mechanisms by which the subsequent cover-up was orchestrated.

The abuse Shapiro describes is so brazen. It is abuse committed by bold abusers who knew they would be protected, and that their victims would not.

Shapiro notes that the grand jury report is the "largest, most comprehensive report into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church ever produced in the United States," and further that the victims of this vast conspiracy were let down both by the church and by law enforcement — a truth made evident by the fact that some of these allegations date back seven decades. That they have been failed so hard and so long by the people meant to protect them makes Shapiro's determination to stop this malice, and hold people accountable for it, all the more moving.

There is excellent coverage at the Philadelphia Inquirer, for anyone who would like to read more (please note that there are descriptions of assaults at the links):

Jeremy Roebuck, Angela Couloumbis, and Liz Navratil: Pennsylvania Catholic Church Sex Abuse Report Names Hundreds of Priests, Accuses Leaders of Cover-Up: 'They Hid It All.'
In all, more than 300 priests were singled out — though some names remain redacted amid legal wrangling over the fairness of the investigation and the public report. Dozens of church superiors — including some now in prominent posts nationally — were also named as complicit.

"All of [the victims] were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all," the report says. "Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible not only did nothing: They hid it all."

The abuse "was rampant and widespread," Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a news conference in the state Capitol. "It touched every diocese, and it is horrifying."
Craig R. McCoy: In Scathing Report, Grand Jury Says Priest Abuse Cover-Up Began at the Top. "The grand jury said the state's bishops had misused their power and enabled the victimization of children: transferring abusive priests, failing to notify police of their crimes, misleading the public about their misconduct, and, in the case of one alleged molester, even officiating at his funeral."

David Gambacorta: Priests Ran Child P0rn Ring in Pittsburgh Diocese. "The men gave a specific gift to children they favored, something they could wear that would mark them as prime targets for abuse. [Rev. George Zirwas] 'had told me that they, the priests, would give their boys, their altar boys, or their favorite boys these crosses,' George told the grand jury. 'So he gave me a big gold cross to wear.'"

And let us not forget that, despite his (broken) promises to meaningfully address sex abuse in the Catholic Church, the chronically overestimated Pope Francis was, as recently as January of this year, accusing victims of being liars. The cover-up does indeed go right to the very top.

I am grateful to my state's passionate Attorney General Josh Shapiro and everyone else who has played a role in this long-time-coming report for their hard work on a subject that is difficult for so many reasons, not least of which because of intimidation from the Catholic Church.

I take up space in solidarity with all of the survivors, whether they have participated in the process, didn't feel safe or ready to participate, or have never breathed a word of what was done to them.

And I implore anyone who has insisted that clergy abuse in the Catholic Church is just about "a few bad apples" to seriously reexamine your position. Because it is dangerously wrong.

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