The Catholic Church is reeling from a new series of sexual abuse allegations this time out of Pennsylvania, where investigators claim that there were more than 300 "predator priests" practicing in six Pennsylvania diocese, as Bishops and Cardinals apparently turned a blind eye.
A Pittsburgh grand jury, which has been investigating a handful of allegations made against priests in the Pittsburgh diocese, released an 884-page report late Tuesday, revealing an intricate web of abuse and deceit that goes back seven decades.
The report represents two years of work, hundreds of interviews with victims and alleged perpetrators, and mounds of evidence.
“Today, the most comprehensive report on child sexual abuse within the church ever produced in our country was released,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a press conference Tuesday. “Pennsylvanians can finally learn the extent of sexual abuse in these dioceses. For the first time, we can all begin to understand the systematic cover up by church leaders that followed. The abuse scarred every diocese. The cover up was sophisticated. The church protected the institution at all costs.”
The report goes into excruciating detail and lists 301 predator priests by name, as well as the names of their directors, bosses, and Bishops. In the diocese of Pittsburgh alone, the investigation found 99 "predator priests," who "groomed and abused" both boys and girls. Some of the priests even operated as a collective, sharing photos of their victims in "child pornography collections," and giving "favored" victims gold crosses to wear so that other predators could identify easy targets.
"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," the report states, indicating that many of the priests had help from higher-ups within their respective diocese.
“Diocesan administrators, including the Bishops, had knowledge of this conduct and yet priests were regularly placed in ministry after the Diocese was on notice that a complaint of child sexual abuse had been made. This conduct enabled offenders and endangered the welfare of children," the report continues.
Shapiro put it succinctly: "they protected their institution at all cost."
The report redacts the names of some of the most egregious offenders, but the name of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and the former Bishop of Pittsburgh appears more than 200 times in the report. Although Cardinal Wuerl is reported to have swiftly handled all new cases of abuse under his tenure as Bishop of Pittsburgh, in a number of cases, most inherited from his predecessor, priests under his watch appear to have been relocated rather than dismissed, and some were given financial support (though Catholic Canonical law does require this in many circumstances).
The cardinal pushed back on the report, saying he quickly developed a "zero tolerance" policy to handle cases of abuse in his diocese, and that he was shocked by the state of affairs when he took control in the late 1980s.
The new allegations come on the heels of a report that longtime Church leader, the once-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, allowed and even facilitated the abuse of seminarians in his diocese. Many Catholics fear that, taken together, these allegations and the ones against McCarrick demonstrate an American Church plagued by internal rot and a clerical hierarchy that seems willing to protect itself to the detriment of millions of faithful.
The implications of their investigation were not lost on the Pittsburgh grand jury:
"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.”