A bombshell grand jury report from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concludes that over 300 members of the Catholic clergy molested over 1,000 child victims amid a "systematic" coverup by church leaders spanning over seven decades - in the second major Catholic pedophile scandal this week following a raid conducted in Chile at the Catholic Episcopal Conference.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at a Tuesday press conference in Harrisburg that while 1,000 victims were identified in the grand jury report, members of the grand jury believe there are more - and that the real number might be "in the thousands" since some records were lost, while victims in other cases were afraid to come forward.
We subpoenaed, and reviewed, half a million pages of internal diocesan documents. They contained credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests. Over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the church’s own records. We believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands.
"The coverup was sophisticated. And all the while, shockingly, church leadership kept records of the abuse and the coverup. These documents, from the dioceses' own 'Secret Archives,' formed the backbone of this investigation," Shapiro said.
The report specifically faulted Cardinal Donald Wuerl - former longtime Pittsburgh bishop who now leads the Washington archdiocese, for his part in concealing the sexual abuse. On Tuesday, Wuerl refuted the claims, saying in a statement that he "acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse."
The grand jury scrutinized abuse allegations in dioceses that minister to more than half the state's 3.2 million Catholics. Its report echoed the findings of many earlier church investigations around the country in its description of widespread sexual abuse by clergy and church officials' concealment of it.
The panel concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability by covering up abuse, failing to report accused clergy to police and discouraging victims from going to law enforcement. -CTV News
The almost 1,400 page report's introduction notes that due to the age of most of the cases, that criminal cases will be unlikely as a result of the massive investigation. "As a consequence of the coverup, almost every instance of abuse we found is too old to be prosecuted," it reads. Indeed, the vast majority of priests named in the document are either dead or likely to avoid arrest due to expired statutes of limitation on their alleged crimes.
The Pennsylvania coverup is the second recent Catholic pedophilia report of the day - after authorities in Chile raided the headquarters of the Catholic Church's Episcopal Conference as part of a wide-ranging probe into clerical sex abuse in the South American country.
The Tuesday raids took place in the most important building of the Chilean church in the capital of Santiago, say prosecutors. Authorities recently summoned the archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, to appear and testify about the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse which had been going on for decades.
In July, Chilean prosecutors said they were investigating 158 members of the country's Catholic church - both clergymen and lay people, for perpetrating or concealing the sexual abuse of children as well as adults.
The cases relate to incidents dating back as far as 1960 and involving 266 victims, including 178 children and adolescents, according to public prosecutor Luis Torres.
The prosecutor's statement offered the first general view of the extent and scope of the abuse scandal faced by Chile's Catholic Church - and how many people are implicated.
Last month, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of five Chilean bishops amid accusations of abuse and related cover-ups.
"The vast majority of reported incidents relate to sexual crimes committed by priests or people linked to educational establishments," Torres told reporters.
The entire strata of the Catholic Church - from bishops to monks - were involved in the crimes, as well as "lay people exercising some function in the ecclesiastical sphere," he noted.
There are 36 ongoing investigations, while 23 previous ones resulted in convictions and one other in an acquittal. -Straits Times
"There's no doubt that what the public prosecutor is doing is very positive and is starting to open the door to situations that previously were treated as an open secret," Juan Carlos Claret, a member of an opposition group to tainted bishop Juan Barros in his area, told AFP.
As we reported earlier, in May, Pope Francis summoned the entire bishops conference to Rome after he said he made "grave errors in judgement" in the case of Baros, who stands accused by victims of pedophile Rev. Fernando Karadima of witnessing and ignoring their abuse.
But the scandal grew beyond the Barros case after Francis received the report written by two Vatican sex crimes experts sent to Chile to get a handle on the scope of the problem.
Their report hasn't been made public, but Francis cited its core findings in the footnotes of the document that he handed over to the bishops at the start of their summit this week.
And those findings are damning. -Daily Mail
While some of the pedophile priests and brothers were expelled from their congregations following the discovery of "immoral conduct," many had their cases "minimized of the absolute gravity of their criminal acts, attributing them to mere weakness or moral lapses," wrote Francis.
The crisis in Chile is just one case in a new wave of abuse-related revelations that have raised pressure on Pope Francis to deal more forcefully with abuse. In France, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is facing a trial on criminal charges for not reporting sexual abuse. In Australia, one archbishop was recently convicted in a criminal court for concealing sexual abuse, and a top Francis lieutenant, Cardinal George Pell, will soon stand trial on charges related to sexual offenses. -WaPo
Brett Doyle, co-director or BishopAccountability.org, which tracks sexual abuse claims, said that the Pennsylvania grand jury report may lead the way for the state to change the statute of limitations.