A grand jury in Pennsylvania has issued an extensive report on sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. The 887 page-long report is the culmination of an 18-month long investigation, identifying over 1,000 victims and more than 300 perpetrators in six dioceses in Pennsylvania. The report includes correspondence as well as the names and detailed histories of clergy who have been accused of molesting children.
The Church's own records reveal a “systematic” campaign of concealment and coverups by ecclesiastical leaders over a period of seven decades. These coverups were often perpetrated in the name of handling the issue “in house” and avoiding the involvement of secular law enforcement, which would most certainly have resulted in unwanted publicity.
Now, the Church in Pennsylvania has all the publicity it can handle. According to the report, the majority of victims were pre-pubescent boys. However, girls and teens were not spared. Violations ranged from exposure to pornographic materials to forcible rape.
Complaints from victims were invariably “brushed aside...by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.” In fact, there were a number of methods and terminologies used to sweep accusations of abuse under the rug. These include the use of euphemisms such as “boundary issues” and “inappropriate contact” rather than “rape” and transferring suspected abusers to other posts while avoiding explanations to parishioners.
Members of the grand jury, drawn from all walks of life, reviewed approximately 500,000 pages of internal church documents during the investigation. Even though 300 names are given, some details and names have been redacted after legal challenges by clergy who claim that such revelations would constitute a violation of their Constitutional rights.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, however, told reporters that he would continue his fight to expose all abusers. As for the 1,000 abuse victims who have been identified, the report suggests that the actual number may be far higher because of “children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward.”
The release of this report helps reignite a fire the Catholic Church hoped had been put out twenty years ago in the wake of the child abuse scandal involving the Archdiocese of Boston. Furthermore, these scandals are not just happening in Pennsylvania and the U.S. Similar stories are coming out from dioceses in countries all over the world.
It begs the question of where the Vatican stands on all of this. Pope Francis has so far had a mixed record in handling the issue and has been drawing some criticism from those within the Church. However, outsiders attribute his failure to naivete and opposition from an ancient institution that historically has been stubbornly resistant to change.
The Church had better rethink that brand of conservatism. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, warned: “Each new report of clerical abuse at any level creates doubt in the minds of many that we are effectively addressing this catastrophe in the Church...[failure to take action] will threaten and endanger the already weakened moral authority of the Church.”