Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report: A Reminder of the Toll of Failure

The report is thought to be the most comprehensive to date into abuse in the US church but while prosecutors have filed charges against two priests the vast majority of crimes happened too long ago to prosecute under current laws

Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report: A Reminder of the Toll of Failure

"Over 1,000 child victims were identified by our investigation, though the grand jury notes that they believe that number was in the thousands", Shapiro said.

Tuesday's report, which said there were more than 1,000 identifiable victims, is the broadest examination yet by a United States government agency of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

"We can't charge most of the culprits", the report states.

"There should be no statute of limitations to bring criminal charges in Pennsylvania when it comes to child sexual abuse", Shapiro said. In other cases, it took years to remove priests despite numerous reports of abuse. Now we know the truth: "it happened everywhere", the members of the grand jury added.

So far only two new priests are being charged with crimes that fall within the statute of limitations.

Who is ultimately responsible for policing the bishops raises a final issue emerging from the grand jury report.

"It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse, including rape", he said.

Almost 100 of the accused clergy are from the Pittsburgh diocese alone, where Donald Wuerl, the current cardinal of Washington, D.C., was the bishop for 18 years. He says he acted diligently to protect children while bishop of Pittsburgh for 18 years through 2006. Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg has also ordered that the names of all of its bishops since 1947 - the beginning of the grand jury's investigation - be stripped from all church buildings in the diocese.

Its findings echoed many earlier church investigations around the country, describing widespread sexual abuse and church officials' concealment of it. US bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church.

"The report will be a reminder of grave failings that the Church must acknowledge and for which it must seek forgiveness", he wrote.

The report claims Zirwas and three other priests created child pornography in parishes and rectories using whips, violence, and sadism while raping their victims. The abuse ranged from groping and masturbation to anal, oral and vaginal rape.

But not all: Shapiro said priests in Greensburg and Erie, Pa., are now facing charges of abusing children in the state; one of the priests pleaded guilty earlier this year.

One incident involved a young boy posing naked as Jesus while priests took pornographic pictures of the young victim.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper reported that Bishop Zubik said: "There is no priest or deacon in an assignment today against whom there was a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse".

The conspiracy of silence extended beyond church grounds.

The report says Wuerl approved transfers for priests instead of removing them from ministry, oversaw inadequate church investigations and concealed information when priests were reported to law enforcement.

That is probably not surprising, as Luzerne remains the most populous of the diocese's 11 counties, many of which are rural, rugged and sparsely populated.

James VanSickle of Pittsburgh, who testified he was sexually attacked in 1981 by a priest in the Erie Diocese, called the report's release "a major victory to get our voice out there, to get our stories told". The state Supreme Court said the public had a right to see it, but ruled the names of priests and others who objected to the findings would be blacked out pending a September hearing on their claims.

Redacted sections later in the report appear to reference Brandt's actions involving several priests accused of misconduct, including one instance where he recommended that an abusive priest be dismissed but also requested to "forgo the penal process ... because a trial would only place an additional burden on the diocese", according to the report.

The report, meanwhile, said that Hannon's admission of at least 20 victims "leads the grand jury to conclude that there were many more as yet unknown victims, both in the Diocese of Erie and in Hawaii".

In a two-page letter to be read at Sunday services, Persico said: "As the grand jury report demonstrates, [children] have experienced cruel behavior by the very individuals who should have had the greatest interest in protecting them".

Latest News