Over 300 Roman Catholic priests allegedly molested more than 1,000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses over decades, said a grand jury report released by the state supreme court on Tuesday. The grand jury said the abuse started in the mid-1950s, reported AP.
The grand jury said the two-year investigation found a systematic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican. “The cover-up was sophisticated,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro at a news conference in Harrisburg. “And all the while, shockingly, church leadership kept records of the abuse and the cover-up. These documents, from the dioceses’ own ‘Secret Archives,’ formed the backbone of this investigation,” he said.
The abuse ranged from groping and masturbation to anal, oral and vaginal rape, said the 1,400-page report. Most of the target were boys, but girls too were abused. “Church officials routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling and inappropriate conduct,” Shapiro said. “It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse, including rape.”
However, most of these accused priests are either dead or will avoid arrest because their alleged crimes are too old to be prosecuted under state law. In Pennsylvania, victims of child sex abuse have until they are 30 to file civil suits and until they are 50 to file criminal charges, reported The Washington Post. The oldest victim who spoke to the grand jury was 83.
The grand jury was set up in 2016. They spoke to dozens of witnesses and reviewed internal documents from the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses.
Some clergymen even went to court to prevent the jury from releasing the report. They argued that it violated their constitutional rights to reputation and due process of law. The state’s supreme court, however, ruled that the public had a right to see it. But the names of priests and those who objected to the findings have been blacked out till the court hears the matter in September.