A growing number of Catholic church leaders and diocesan officials are responding with sadness and shame to the sweeping state grand jury report released on Aug. 14 that details widespread sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania and the Roman Catholic Church’s systematic efforts to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations.
Leaders from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a joint statement on the highly anticipated 884-page report.
“As a body of bishops, we are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops,” the statement said. “We are profoundly saddened each time we hear about the harm caused as a result of abuse, at the hands of a clergyman of any rank.”
The group plans to host a series of meetings this week on cultivating safe environments within the church and will give an update upon its conclusion.
The report lists 301 “predator priests” who are credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims, the majority of whom were boys. Due to continuing legal battles, more than a dozen names and related information remain redacted.
“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 grand jury report stated. Chuch leaders have acknowledged in the past that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested.
Many of the identified priests will not face justice as most are already deceased and for those still alive, the alleged crimes are too old to be prosecuted. The findings cover abuse by the clergy dating back as much as 70 years in six of eight Pennsylvania dioceses, including Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton. The findings in the other two dioceses were detailed in previous reports.
Each diocese’s response to the report was noticeably similar, with expressions of sorrow. Each also highlighted steps to protect children, while some also added new names of accused clergymen as a show of transparency. In the Diocese of Pittsburgh alone, 99 priests were accused, while, in others, the number hovered around 50. The investigation into the abuse is continuing.
Chuch administrators were accused of routinely covering up the claims of abuse by dissuading victims from reporting abuse, pressuring law enforcement to terminate investigations, or conducting their own biased investigations.
The Diocese of Greensburg on Aug. 13 responded by releasing a list of 21 clergy, with some new names who had “credible and substantiated allegations” against them. Some clergy on that list are deceased, while others have been removed from ministry.
“Some of these names may be familiar to you; others may not,” a statement from the diocese said. “This is an evolving list of those who, based on prior credible and substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse submitted to the Diocese, should not be permitted to work with or around children, young people or vulnerable adults.”
The Diocese of Erie followed suit by adding five new names to their publicized list of clergy as well as lay men and women. The total number now stands at 72.
“The Diocese of Erie will not shroud abusers in secrecy—no matter who they are or how long ago the abuse occurred,” Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico said.
A week before the report’s public release, the Diocese of Harrisburg posted its own list and said that it had removed positions of honor from any clergy named in the report. Bishop Ronald W. Gainer said on Aug. 14 that the diocese “will continue to make amends for the sins of our past.”
Previously, the Diocese of Pittsburgh said they would post the names of accused clergy from their diocese after the grand jury report is released, “out of respect for the work.” As of Aug. 15, the list hadn’t been released.
In an emailed statement to The Epoch Times, the Diocese of Allentown said the past abuse was “abhorrent and tragic,” while adding that “much has changed over the past 15 years.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office led the investigation, fought for the report to be made public. He said of the church, “Above all else, they protected their institution above all costs.”