“We, the members of the grand jury, need you to hear this,” the report begins.
The 1,356-page document, released on Tuesday, was put together over the course 18 months, by a grand jury convened by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After investigating allegations of abuse in six of the state’s eight Catholic diocese, hearing the testimony of dozens of witnesses, and reviewing over 500,000 documents, they determined that in the past 70 years, over 1,000 children had been abused by over 300 priests. It is the largest grand jury report on child sexual assault to date.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro said that the grand jury’s report reveals a “systematic coverup by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.”
Although the report addresses each of the six diocese (Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton) separately, it says the same patterns emerged in how officials tried to mask allegations of assault — using euphemisms to describe abuse, not conducting thorough investigations, sending priests for “evaluation,” and not telling police.
“The main thing,” they write, “was not help children, but to avoid ‘scandal.’”
The last section of the report is an Index of Offenders from each of the diocese, though names and identifying details of the accused clerics have been redacted. In its introduction, the grand jury identified several of the most egregious cases:
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.
They also pointed out that even in cases where priests admitted to their crimes, action was often not taken. For example, in the Diocese of Erie:
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.”
Because most of the hundreds of cases included in the report are too old to be prosecuted (the grand jury has only so far issued presentments against two priests) the report’s authors also put forth a series of recommendations for how to change existing laws so victims can take actions against their abusers, even years later. These include removing the criminal statute of limitations in cases of child sexual assault, improving mandated reporting, and changing the laws surrounding confidentiality agreements so that having one does not exempt you from cooperating with law enforcement.
“All of [the victims] were brushed aside,” the report reads, “in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.”
Read the full report here.